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The Philosopher's Stone
Newsletter - 2017

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.


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)

Reading or rereading Covey’s Seven Habits and at least chapter 7 of our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality would get the new year off to a great start for you.


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,, 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 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 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 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


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.


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 21, 2017

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 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.


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.


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 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 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)

Other tips:

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.


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 [1886] 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.


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 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 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!


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).


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 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 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 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.

Covey continues:

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.


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”. 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.


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 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 27, 2017

At Last: The Seven Habits Model

Okay, we get it that good character must precede the personality ethic. We get it that changing habits is vital and must go from the inside out. We understand the maturity continuum: we begin as totally dependent infants, mature to independence, then finally to interdependence, the highest level of interaction. We need just one more piece of background information: private victory over self and habit must precede public victory. Each of these victories involves three Habits. The Seventh Habit runs in a circle around the other six and affects them all. So here you have it:

The maturity continuum pieces are stacked up like the bread in a double-decker sandwich. Dependence is on the bottom, then the first three Habits, which constitute the private victory. Then we are ready for the second piece of bread: independence. The private victory helps us achieve true independence. But then we must mature further with the second set of three Habits, which get us from independence to interdependence, a.k.a. the public victory.

Here they are, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Private Victory

1. Be proactive.
2. Begin with the end in mind.
3. Put first things first.

Public Victory

4. Think win/win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
6. Synergize.

The rest of the book deals with “the sequential relationship between the Habits and also their synergy—how, in relating to each other, they create bold new forms of each other that add even more to their value”. But first, Covey defines effectiveness:

The Seven Habits are habits of effectiveness. Because they are based on principles, they bring the maximum long-term beneficial results possible. They become the basis of a person’s character, creating an empowering center of correct maps from which an individual can effectively solve problems, maximize opportunities, and continually learn and integrate other principles in an upward spiral of growth. (page 52)

Why are they habits of effectiveness? “[B]ecause they are based on a paradigm of effectiveness that is in harmony with a natural law, a principle I call the ‘P/PC Balance,’ which many people break themselves against.” This principle is the one we are all familiar with from Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid golden eggs. As you probably remember, a poor farmer discovers a golden egg in the nest of an otherwise ordinary goose. He has it appraised and learns that it is pure gold. The experience repeats day after day, and the farmer becomes rich. But then he gets greedy, and deciding to go after the gold all at once, he kills the goose, learning to his dismay that its insides are very ordinary indeed. No more golden eggs, and now no goose to lay them. Covey explains: “But as the story shows, true effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (the golden eggs) and the producing asset or capacity to produce (the goose).” You have to take care of both Production and Production Capability and keep them in balance. Neglecting either one renders you ineffective. This applies to physical, financial, and human assets. Covey once bought a power lawn mower, which worked well for a couple of years without his doing anything to maintain it. Eventually, it broke down. He had lost not only the means of production (the mower/goose), but also the product itself: the mowed lawn/golden eggs.

In terms of financial assets, people all too often confuse principal and interest, perhaps invading principal to raise their standard of living, their golden eggs. In a marriage or with one’s children, people may care only about the benefits and neglect the preservation of the underlying relationship: “[T]hey often become insensitive and inconsiderate, neglecting the little kindnesses and courtesies so important to a deep relationship.” Little children are “very dependent, very vulnerable. It becomes so easy to neglect the PC work—the training, the communicating, the relating, the listening. It’s easy to take advantage, to manipulate, to get what you want the way you want it.” Whether you yell and intimidate or indulge, “you have the golden egg mentality”. You are neglecting the goose.

This is equally applicable in an organization: “When people fail to respect the P/PC balance in their use of physical assets in organizations, they decrease organizational effectiveness and often leave others with dying geese.” You can flog your people or your machine endlessly, and even get promoted for all those golden eggs, but your successor inherits

a very sick goose, a machine that by this time is rusted and starts to break down. You have to invest heavily in downtime and maintenance. Costs skyrocket; profits nose-dive. And who gets blamed for the loss of golden eggs? You do. Your predecessor liquidated the asset, but the accounting system only reported unit production, costs, and profit. (page 57)

And so it goes: you have to maintain the balance between the needs of your customers, employees, machinery, and all the golden eggs you hope to obtain.

What about the seventh Habit, the one that braids the others together? “The seventh habit, if deeply internalized, will renew the first six and will make you truly independent and capable of effective interdependence. Through it, you can charge your own batteries.” Covey reminds us, “You are not your habits. You can replace old patterns of self-defeating behavior with new patterns, new habits of effectiveness, happiness, and trust-based relationships. . . . Be patient with yourself.” It’s no quick fix, but it is so worthwhile. We will identify the seventh Habit next week.


July 4, 2017

The Seventh Habit and the Interactions

To complete the model, I am going to jump ahead in the book and describe the seventh Habit. It represents what Covey calls “the principles of balanced self-renewal”. He then describes an imaginary meeting with someone trying to saw down a tree and getting nowhere because his saw is dull and he is exhausted after hours of sawing, but refusing to take time out from his fruitless effort and sharpen it because he is “too busy sawing”. Pretty silly, huh? But we all are inclined to do just that. We burn the candle at both ends without taking into consideration the fact that our output is a curve of decreasing gains as we become physically and mentally exhausted and overloaded. Studies have repeatedly shown that taking regular breaks of various sorts enables us to get more done efficiently and effectively.

Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.
Habit 7 is personal PC. It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature—physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.
Although different words are used, most philosophies of life deal either explicitly or implicitly with these four dimensions. . . . (pages 287-288)

Physical includes exercise (or at least, movement), proper nutrition, and stress management. Mental includes reading, visualizing, planning, and writing. Social/emotional includes service, empathy, synergy, and intrinsic security. Spiritual includes values clarification and commitment, study, and meditation. Covey’s main objective is to show us all how to work all this and the implication of the first six Habits into our daily lives by planning ahead a week at a time, then reviewing those plans daily. “‘Sharpen the saw’ basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways.”

We will come back to this in greater detail later. For now, we need to go back to the beginning and look at each habit in detail, noting how they interact.

Habit 1, Be proactive, involves a word that at the time was not in the dictionary, even though everyone had a pretty good idea of what it meant as related to reactive: “It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” Responsibility means ability to respond (but don’t write it responseability or you will misspell it!). If we are proactive, we recognize that and don’t try to blame “circumstances, conditions, or conditioning” for our behavior. We are always free to choose our response. This Habit supplies our personal vision: “You are the programmer”.

Habit 2 is Begin with the end in mind. This Habit has a double meaning: the end can be what things look like when you actually get to the finish, and it can also mean what your goal or objective is. Covey points out that it does us no good to climb the ladder of success only to find out that it is leaning against the wrong wall: “We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.” Also, this Habit “is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” A house is created in mind and captured in a blueprint, then created in manifestation with bricks and mortar, or whatever. You have to make sure that the first creation is really what you want; otherwise, change can be very expensive and time consuming. “The carpenter’s rule is “measure twice, cut once.” (That also applies at the sewing machine.) “Put another way, Habit 1 says, ‘You are the creator.’ Habit 2 is the first creation.” Or, “Write the program.”

In business, leadership and management are the two creations. Habit 3 is Put First Things First, the principles of personal management. If you are the programmer, and Habit 2 is where you write the program, the leadership Habit, Habit 3 is the management Habit, where you run/live the program. Another of my favorite Covey stories is the one about a group of producers/problem solvers hacking their way through a jungle with machetes:

The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.
The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”
But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? “Shut up! We’re making progress.” (page 101)

We don’t need a road map so much as we need a compass: “an inner compass will always give us direction”. To be effective, effort must be in the right jungle, so leadership must come first, ahead of management: “Effective management without effective leadership is, as one individual has phrased it, ‘like straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic’.” To begin with the end in mind, we need a personal mission statement, a sort of “personal constitution”. Covey includes a number of examples of good ones, but they are very individual. They must be principle-centered, so that security, wisdom, guidance, and power can flow from that center to circumference. Other centers just don’t work as well.

After leadership’s first creation is in place, management can kick in with Put first things first, because by then you know what the first things are, or ought to be:

Habits 1 and 2 are absolutely essential and prerequisite to Habit 3. You can’t become principle-centered without first being aware of and developing your own proactive nature. You can’t become principle-centered without first being aware of your paradigms and understanding how to shift them and align them with principles. You can’t become principle-centered without a vision of and a focus on the unique contribution that is yours to make.
But with that foundation, you can become principle-centered, day-in and day-out, moment-by-moment, by living Habit 3—by practicing effective self-management.
Management, remember, is clearly different from leadership. Leadership is primarily a high-powered, right brain activity. It’s more of an art; it’s based on a philosophy. You have to ask the ultimate questions of life when you’re dealing with personal leadership issues. (page 147)

So Covey boils his own maxim of personal effectiveness down to Manage from the left; lead from the right.

To be continued.


July 11, 2017

The Private Victory

By now, you surely realize that reading the book for yourself will yield a wealth of detail that I cannot possibly get into here. I hope to tantalize you into acquiring and reading it for yourself.

We have covered the first three Habits, which constitute the private victory and need to precede the second three Habits, the public victory. The seventh Habit ties all of the other habits together and keeps us going with Production Capability (nurturing the goose that lays those golden eggs).

Covey rounds out the description of the private victory by noting that time management is a misnomer. We really cannot manage time; we can only manage ourselves: “Rather than focusing on things and time, . . . focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results—in short, on maintaining the P/PC Balance” (remember the golden eggs and the goose). At this point, he supplies us with The Time Management Matrix, which has four quadrants. Things are either Urgent or Not Urgent, and Important or Unimportant. Urgent demands our immediate attention; Importance has to do with results. Quadrant I is Important/Urgent, Quadrant II is Important but Not Urgent, Quadrant III is Urgent but Not Important, and Quadrant IV is Not Important/Not Urgent. You can readily see that anything in Quadrant IV we would probably be better off without. Quadrant I will demand our attention immediately. The tricky one is Quadrant II, where nothing impels us to act (nothing is on fire!), but that is where the important stuff is, the frequently dreary stuff that allows us to make progress if we faithfully do it. Quadrant I is crisis management and represents P. Quadrant II is the PC. Quadrant III is the priorities of others, which we can’t entirely overlook, but Quadrants III and IV are basically irresponsibilities.

As long as you focus on Quadrant I, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you. It’s like the pounding surf. A huge problem comes and knocks you down and you’re wiped out. You struggle back up only to face another one that knocks you down and slams you to the ground. (page 152)

People stuck in Quadrant I frequently try to escape for a while to Quadrant IV, doing very little in Quadrants II or III. Other people confuse Quadrant III with Quadrant I, reacting to urgencies with the idea that they are important because they are urgent. “Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because, urgent or not, they aren’t important. They also shrink Quadrant I down to size by spending more time in Quadrant II.” Only by taking time away from Quadrants III and IV can you find time for Quadrants I and II. Experience has taught Covey that this can best be done by planning a week at a time and then looking over and fine-tuning the plans on a daily basis. He calls this “using a road map instead of a compass”. As we have seen, this involves being principle-centered and conscience-directed. It also involves having a unique mission in life, one which one uses to guide and prioritize all the activities of life, taking into account one’s various roles and goals in business and in personal life. “The practical thread running through . . . these advances is a primary focus on relationships and results and a secondary focus on time.” Covey adds: “[E]ffectively delegating to others is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is.” It “enables you to give your energies to other high-leverage activities. Delegation means growth, both for individuals and for organizations.” Because it involves other people, it could be assigned to the public victory category, but Covey notes: [T]he ability to delegate to others is the main difference between the role of manager and independent producer[.] I am approaching delegation from the standpoint of your personal managerial skills.” If you are a producer, you do what is necessary to get things done, but if you “work with and through people and systems to produce golden eggs”, you become a manager. Covey was writing this in 1989. Today, it would be framed in terms of leadership, both of self and of others. Reading the sections of the book that we have already covered, you can see the distinction between leadership and management, which has since then been broadened, still along Covey’s basic lines.

Delegation to someone else is either “gofer delegation” or “stewardship delegation”. If one simply recruits a gofer and then hangs over him or her, micro-managing, that is not true delegation and does not free one or train the other. On the other hand:

Stewardship delegation is focused on results instead of methods. It gives people a choice of method and makes them responsible for results. It take more time in the beginning, but it’s time well invested. You can move the fulcrum over, you can increase your leverage, through stewardship delegation.
Stewardship delegation involves clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment regarding expectations in five areas. (pages 173-174)

Desired results: the other person needs to be able to paint a word picture of the results you both desire.

Guidelines: “the parameters within which the individual should operate”; “as few as possible”.

Resources: what the person can draw on for help in getting the desired results.

Accountability: “the standards of performance that will be used in evaluating the results”.

Consequences: “what will happen, both good and bad, as a result of the evaluation”.

At this point, Covey inserts his famous story, “Clean and green”, about his efforts to get his seven-year-old son to take care of the back yard of their home. It is far too long to insert here, but it involves all five of these results, including the struggles both he and his son underwent in order to achieve a successful outcome, which included a neat and tidy, thriving yard in a family of nine children!

I am convinced that if stewardship delegation is done correctly, both parties will benefit and ultimately much more work will get done in much less time. . . . Certainly you can pick up that room better than a child, but the key is that you want to empower the child to do it, It takes time . . . but how valuable that time is downstream! It saves you so much in the long run. (page 178)

The key is viewing things “through the lens of importance rather than urgency”. Furthermore, “every one of the Seven Habits is in Quadrant II”.

To be continued.


July 18, 2017

The Public Victory: Habits 4-6

After achieving the private victory by being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first, we have reached independence and are ready for the public victory.

We already know “that effective interdependence can only be built on a foundation of true independence. Private Victory precedes Public Victory. Algebra comes before calculus.”

A point often made in New Thought is that the road by which you have traveled is the only road that you could have taken:

There’s no way to parachute into this terrain. The landscape ahead is covered with the fragments of broken relationships of people who have tried. They’re tried to jump into effective relationships without the maturity, the strength of character, to maintain them. . . . You can’t be successful with other people if you haven’t paid the price of success with yourself. (page 185)

Another way of putting it is “You can’t talk your way out of problems you behave yourself into”. Personality techniques may grease the social skids, but “you can’t have the fruits without the roots”. “Self-mastery and self-discipline are the foundation of good relationships with others.”

Covey considers independence an achievement. “Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make”, and without it, there is no point in even trying, even if at first it seems to be working, because when problems arise, “we won’t have the foundation to keep things together.” Interdependence brings “worlds of possibilities for deep, rich, meaningful associations, for geometrically increased productivity, for serving, for contributing, for learning, for growing.” We may suffer privately from the pain of messed-up personal lives, but it is in our interactions with others that the pain goes from chronic to acute, and we really suffer. “The band-aids of the Personality Ethic” don’t work because we are merely treating symptoms.

In an interdependent situation, the golden eggs are the effectiveness, the wonderful synergy, , the results created by open communication and positive interaction with others. And to get those eggs on a regular basis, we need to take care of the goose. We need to create and care for the relationships that make those results realities. (page 188)

At this point, Covey revisits the P/PC relationship with a new metaphor: the Emotional Bank Account. “An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship . It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.” We build up these accounts with deposits of “courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you”. Once built up, I can draw on that account from time to time if necessary. But “discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life” leads to an overdrawn account. Without that reserve of trust built up, the relationship consists of walking on eggs. “The P/PC lighthouse is there, we can either break ourselves against it or we can use it as a guiding light.” This is especially true in a marriage or with a family.

Covey recommends six major deposits:

Understanding the Individual

Attending to the Little Things

Keeping Commitments

Clarifying Expectations

Showing Personal Integrity

Apologizing Sincerely When You Make a Withdrawal

He uses himself as a horrible example in an incident with his children that had apparently occurred before, and as a result, they refused to forgive him. “In other words, [his son] was saying, ‘Dad, you’re overdrawn, and you’re not going to talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into.’”

Finally, before moving on into Public Victory, Covey points out: “P Problems are PC Opportunities . . . a chance to build the Emotional Bank Accounts that significantly affect interdependent production.”

How do Habits 4, 5, and 6 interact to supply interpersonal leadership?

Habit 4: Think win/win. Not Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, or Win, but Win/Win or no deal. “Win/Win is not a technique; it’s a total philosophy of human interaction.” It seeks mutual benefit in all transactions, or we walk away. “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.” Life is not a zero/sum game, where for one of us to win, the other has to lose. We can find a way to bake a bigger pie. There are “truly competitive or low-trust situations. But most of life is not a competition.” We need cooperation, not the disfunctionality of a Win/Lose mentality. Win/Win requires integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality, all aspects of good character. Covey states: “Win/Win can only survive in an organization when the systems support it. If you talk Win/Win but reward Win/Lose, you’re got a losing program on your hands. You basically get what you reward.”

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This involves the principle of empathic communication. “You don’t have much confidence in someone who doesn’t diagnose before he or she prescribes.” Suppose your optometrist simple handed you his own glasses without measuring your eyes, saying that they had served him well. You wouldn’t stick around for long! In order to influence someone, he or she needs to feel understood, listened to. The more you listen first, the more your response will be appropriate, and you will get farther with the other person. Empathic listening is “a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account because it gives a person “psychological air”. It is difficult, because you become vulnerable. In order to influence, you have to be able to be influenced, and that can be scary. If you try to judge before you understand, you will never fully understand. Other people’s perspectives are nearly always different from our own, and that must be taken into account in trying to understand them. But then it is your turn; you need to be understood. Sauce for the gander, sauce for the goose. You need to politely insist on giving your view, your side, expecting the other person to listen just as you did.

Habit 6: Synergize. This is the principle of creative cooperation. This is how you get an outcome that is higher or better than either side could have achieved alone. This is where the magic can happen: “Synergy is the essence of principle-centered leadership. It is the essence of principle-centered parenting. It catalyzes, unifies, and unleashes the greatest powers within people. All the habits we have covered prepare us to create the miracle of synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is everywhere in nature.

Most all creative endeavors are somewhat unpredictable. They often seem ambiguous, hit-or-miss, trial and error. And unless people have a high tolerance for ambiguity and get their security from integrity to principles and inner values they find it unnerving and unpleasant to be involved in highly creative enterprises. Their need for structure, certainty, and predictability is too high. (pages 264-265)

The result of synergy can be the third alternative, the one that is higher and better than either side could have achieved on its own. “Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy.”

To be continued.


July 25, 2017

Valuing the Differences

Covey tells us that the essence of synergy is “valuing the differences”: “the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people”. The key to this “is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.” Then why would I care about some else whose viewpoint is different from mine? I believe that I am seeing the larger picture, that my view is correct. “If that’s my paradigm, then I will never be effectively interdependent, or even effectively independent . . . . I will be limited by the paradigms of my own conditioning.” Covey explains: “When we’re left to our own experiences, we constantly suffer from a shortage of data.

Is it logical that two people can disagree and that both can be right? It’s not logical: it’s psychological. And it’s very real.” We interpret what we see differently, for we have been conditioned that way.

And unless we value the differences in our perceptions, unless we value each other and give credence to the possibility that we’re both right, that life is not always a dichotomous either/or, that there are almost always third alternatives, we will never be able to transcend the limits of that conditioning. (page 277)

The key, when we become aware that there is a difference in our perceptions, is to say, “‘Good! You see it differently! Help me see what you see.’ If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary.” Once we understand how the other person sees and interprets things, we can either join that perception or be better equipped to influence them toward our view of the situation.

Now we can begin to see how the second three Habits interact. In any situation, there are both driving forces and restraining forces working directly against each other:

[W]hen you introduce synergy, you use the motive of Habit 4 [Win/Win], the skill of Habit 5 [Understand then be understood], and the interaction of Habit 6 [Synergize] to work directly on the restraining forces. You create an atmosphere in which it is safe to talk about these forces. You unfreeze them, loosen them up, and create new insights that actually transform those restraining forces into driving ones. You involve people in the problem, immerse them in it, so that they soak it in and feel it is their problem and they tend to become a important part of the solution. (page 280)

Covey next supplies several examples of situations where an impasse was reached, or an issue had been turned over to the lawyers. In each case, once the people involved began to apply Habits 4, 5, and 6, the situation quickly shifted and was peacefully and satisfactorily resolved to the benefit of all concerned. The courts, indicates Covey, have their place, but only as a last resort. If used too early, “sometimes fear and the legal paradigm create subsequent thought and action processes that are not synergistic.”

After noting, “All nature is synergistic”, Covey adds, “Everything is related to everything else.” This gladdens the heart of any process-relational thinker. He continues:

Synergy works; it’s a correct principle. It is the crowning achievement of all the previous habits. It is effectiveness in an interdependent reality—it is teamwork, team building, the development of unity and creativity with other human beings. (page 283)

Even in an adversarial environment, you can be “synergistic within yourself”, valuing the difference between your analytical and your creative self, or the difference between your perspective and someone else’s.

When you see only two alternatives—yours and the “wrong” one—you can look for a synergistic third alternative. There’s almost always a third alternative, and if you work with a Win/Win philosophy and really seek to understand, you usually can find a solution that will be better for everyone concerned. (page 284)

Thesis and antithesis are poles of a continuum, but the synergy is rarely 50-50; it is far more likely to be something such as 98-2 percent. That 2 percent represents the boundary of your position and keeps it from veering off into space; it matters a great deal, especially because the person whose view represents the 2 percent feels heard and recognized. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost....”

To be continued.


August 1, 2017

Balanced Self-Renewal

I jumped the gun and introduced Habit 7 some weeks ago, but now it is time to look at it more carefully. Covey’s basic model pictures it as a circle running around the basic stack of platforms constituting the Seven Habits. It literally holds them all together and makes them continue to be possible (remember the Sharpen the Saw metaphor and story?). We don’t want either dying geese or a golden egg shortage (see June 27).

In a way, it all starts with Habit 7, at the beginning of each day, or at least of each day’s planning. And as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This doesn’t mean that you have to have every detail written down and duplicated in triplicate; it just mean that you have to begin with the end in mind (Habit 2). Habit 1, Be proactive, is the mental state from which you start, start whatever from wherever. Your route to your destination can and probably will get revised from time to time, and as long as that is not change simply for the sake of change, it is a Good Thing.

Covey tells us about four dimensions of renewal: “Habit 7 is personal PC. It’s preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you. It’s renewing the four dimensions of your nature—physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.” He shows this as four compass points on a circle: Physical (exercise, nutrition, and stress management); Mental (reading, visualizing, planning, writing); Spiritual (value clarification and commitment, study and meditation); and Social/Emotional (service, empathy, synergy, intrinsic security).

“Sharpen the saw” basically means expressing all four motivations. It means exercising all four dimensions of our nature, regularly and consistently in wise and balanced ways.
To do this, we must be proactive. Taking time to sharpen the saw is a definite Quadrant II activity, and Quadrant II must be acted on. Quadrant I, because of its urgency, acts on us; it presses upon us constantly. Personal P/C/ must be pressed upon until it becomes second nature, until it becomes a kind of healthy addiction. Because it’s at the center of our Circle of Influence, no one else can do it for us. We must do it for ourselves.
This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life—investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways. (pages 288-289)

The physical dimension is the one in which it is necessary to keep up to date with the findings of legitimate science. I say “legitimate” because there is so much out-of-integrity activity fostered by vested interests with a sole motive of profit, no matter who is harmed, killed or maimed. It is a real challenge to wend one’s way through the misinformation and disinformation waved in front of us by supposed experts in various fields. When these collude with government regulatory boards, we have corruption on the hoof. Websites such as and can help steer us in the right direction. Unfortunately, one’s family doctor may not be up to date on much of the findings about diet and exercise. The good news is that we no longer have to exercise to the point of exhaustion, and actually shouldn’t. The marathon runners may be in phenomenal shape, but their hearts pay a price, as witness all the people who have dropped dead jogging. Nor do we have to starve ourselves thin; we just have to break the heavily processed, junk-food and soda habits and eat wholesome food the way the good Lord grew it. If you need a place to start, try quitting all grains and sugars. And your body was designed to run on unprocessed saturated fats for fuel. If you are eating right, you will have the energy for reasonable exercise, such as walking or gardening, or brief spurts of running, if that’s your bliss.

The mental dimension is—ironically—a no-brainer: turn off most of the tv and a lot of the computer time wasters and pick up a book. Some people never crack a book after they leave school, but those who do not read are no better than those who cannot read. If you learn better through your ears or by doing, fine; just don’t waste your life on too many pastimes.

“The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one. It draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift you and tie you to the timeless truths of all humanity.” Some people turn to great literature or great music, or communicate with nature, but however you do it, you need to renew your sense of inner peace, your sense of “someone/something bigger than myself” guiding you and looking out for you. That same higher power is the source of your value system and of your free will. “Spiritual renewal takes an investment of time. But it’s a Quadrant II activity we don’t really have time to neglect.”


While the physical, spiritual, and mental dimensions are closely related to Habits 1, 2, and 3—centered on the principles of personal vision, leadership, and management—the social/emotional dimension focuses on Habits, 4, 5, and 6—centered on the principles of interpersonal leadership, empathic communication, and creative cooperation.
The social and the emotional dimensions of our lives are tied together because our emotional life is primarily, but not exclusively, developed out of and manifested in our relationships with others.
Renewing our social/emotional dimension does not take time in the same sense that renewing the other dimensions does. We can do it in our normal everyday interactions with other people, but it definitely requires exercise. We may have to push ourselves because many of us have not achieved the level of Private Victory and the skills of Public Victory necessary for Habits 4, 5, and 6 to come naturally to us in all our interactions. (page 297)

To be continued.


August 8, 2017

Balanced Self-Renewal (con’t.)

Another aspect of the balanced self-renewal that Covey refers to as saw sharpening is the idea (part of the social-emotional dimension) that since interdependence is the highest level of functioning, we all need to somehow be of service to our fellow human beings, preferably using our highest and most-enjoyed talents to do so. Covey stresses, “And there are so many ways to serve. . . . not a day goes by that we can’t at least serve one other human being by making deposits of unconditional love” (in our Emotional Bank Account with that person). Another way that we can serve is to script others. We are all aware that we are part of the social mirror that influences us and that we in turn influence:

We can choose to reflect back to others a clear, undistorted vision of themselves. We can affirm their proactive nature and treat them as responsible people. We can help script them as principle-centered, value-based, independent, worthwhile individuals.  And, with the Abundance Mentality, we realize that giving a positive reflection to others in no way diminishes us. It increases us because it increases the opportunities for effective interaction with other proactive people. (pages 299-300)

What if someone believed in you at a point when you were unable to believe in yourself? That person would script you in a positive way. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to have had that experience. If the social mirror is encouraging someone to take the low road, you can encourage that person to take the higher. To do this is to touch a life. Covey quotes Goethe: “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” This is not to remove excellence as a standard, or merit as a criterion for judging performance; this is not the deplorable practice of giving trophies just for showing up. It is, rather, encouraging improvement as what has been called “the only practical management goal”. How can we do this better, more effectively? How can we make this product more cheaply or quickly without causing quality to suffer?

Finally, Covey stresses, “Although renewal in each dimension is important, it only becomes optimally effective as we deal with all four dimensions in a wise and balanced way. To neglect any one area negatively impacts the rest.” This returns to his idea that you cannot divorce your personal life from your work life:

In an organization, the physical dimension is expressed in economic terms. The mental or psychological dimension deals with the recognition, development, and use of talent. The social/emotional dimension has to do with human relations, with how people are treated. And the spiritual dimension deals with finding meaning through purpose or contribution and through organizational integrity.
When an organization neglects any one or more of these areas, it negatively impacts the entire organization. The creative energies that could result in tremendous, positive synergy are instead used to fight against the organization and become restraining forces to growth and productivity. (page 302)

Covey repeats his emphasis on the interaction of the 7 Habits, particularly in the Public and Private Victories. He here also explains: “Renewal is the principle—and the process—that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement. . . . To keep progressing, we must learn, commit, and do—learn, commit, and do—and learn, commit, and do again.” This is an ongoing lifelong effort to grow in all ways. It is completely in harmony with the process idea that we are new every moment, and that we build up the pattern of the past moment by moment until the next moment capitulates us into our desired goal. It is also in harmony with the New Thought principles of optimism and giving our attention to what we want rather than to what we don’t want.

Covey concludes the book with “my own personal conviction concerning what I believe to be the source of correct principles. I believe that correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the Creator and Father of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our conscience.”

The organization that Covey founded and sustained for many years was eventually folded into Franklin-Covey, which is still very much in existence. The two organizations, each of which was certain that it had “the answer” to successful living, had to put their own principles to the test in order to learn how to merge with each other in a constructive way. They succeeded admirably. The attractive planners, in assorted sizes, styles and colors to suit any personality, are available in various hard-copy paper formats as well as electronic versions. You can find them online at, or by going straight to There are courses available, but the first step is clearly to acquire and read the book, one of the most valuable that you will ever read, especially as a Process New Thought person.


August 15, 2017

What’s New About New Thought?

Interesting question, right? Those of you who have been reading my columns for a while will already know that we only acquired the name New Thought towards the end of the XIX century. Many people still have the movement confused with New Age, and there are people who belong to both groups, but New Thought has ancient roots. Some of these roots predate Christianity, which itself is based on the far-more-ancient Judaism. There are bits of other roots going way back into Eastern religions: the Philosopher was fond of describing the heart of process thought in the ancient Buddhist terms of “one candle lighting another”, which Alan liked to refer to as “serial selfhood”. Being Alan, he had to immediately follow up by stating that it had nothing whatever to do with flakes of corn or rice puffs shot from guns!

But that gets me prematurely into a discussion of process thought, or better still, Process New Thought. What’s new about New Thought is its new, fresh perspective on over two thousand years of Christian teachings, much of which would have horrified Jesus. As an observant Jew, he wanted people to go on following the teachings that had sustained the Jewish community through all their hardships through the centuries. This included embracing the Ten Commandments and condensing them into two great commandments, quoted from the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament). Descriptions of this are to be found at Matt. 22: 36-40. Mark 12: 28-34, and Luke 10: 25-28. The first Great Commandment is paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5; the second is from Leviticus 19: 18. Yet Jesus was also quick to free people from a slavish devotion to the letter of the law, as in “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).

New Thought paved the way for other varying degrees of liberal Christianity to take a fresh look at such concepts as heaven and hell, the meaning of sin (“missing the mark”, a Greek archery term, not eternally horrible moral turpitude), and life after the death of the physical body. All of the founders of the various New Thought denominations came from Christian backgrounds (the exception was Taniguchi, the founder of Seicho-No-Ie, who was influenced by Christians Fenwick Holmes and his brother Ernest, founder of Religious Science/Science of Mind). But “the father of New Thought” P.P. Quimby stumbled onto his mind-power approach to healing the sick in mind and body through mesmerism, the latest scientific wrinkle also checked out by Freud (neither of them thought much of it, ultimately). Quimby had only the limited schooling available to most people in his day, but he had a good, inquisitive mind with a strong scientific bent (he built and repaired clocks, along with holding a couple of patents). He read a fair amount of philosophy, and his arguments (his approach was disputational) relied on reason and common sense, uncommon though that may be! Ronald A. Hughes, the world authority on Quimby, has a superb website where one can research all things related to Quimby as well as subscribe to a daily Quimby quotation. I highly recommend the daily quote because Quimby used metaphor incessantly to make his points, and one can reach the saturation point rather quickly. It is far better to absorb it in daily bits. For example, yesterday’s quotation included the statement, “It is often said that God is in everything. This makes God less than the thing He is in.” A profoundly important bit of theology, this comes from page 304 of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond, Ron’s flagship volume. Thing One in theology is that one’s God must be “worthy of worship”, as the saying goes. Would you really want an evil or feeble God? (The Philosopher once titled a chapter “Is God a Weakie or a Meanie?”)

One of the ongoing wrangles in theology (which is the study of one’s view of God after one has determined one’s overall systematic philosophy and can see where it leads) is how to have a God who somehow “has a finger in every pie” (the Philosopher’s description) and yet is above and beyond it all so as to have a better perspective, for a God worthy of worship has to be able to see farther than we do. But before we get too deeply involved in theology, we need to look at the basic beliefs around which New Thought developed and why. The Creator didn’t just bake the pie and walk away; he continues to remain involved with it at the same time that he preserves his useful distance perspective. The philosophical description is that God is both immanent and transcendent (“the Lord of interstellar space” is at the same time “closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet”). But that is quite complex, and I think I will save it for next time, when I can also fulfill my mission of reviewing what is new in New Thought as well as what is new about New Thought from its beginnings. Meanwhile, if you are new to New Thought, you might find Alan’s and my jointly-authored primer, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (Rev. Ed. 2003), helpful. You can order it through this website or through Ron’s website, It is also easily available from Amazon in hardcover or paperback as well as in a Kindle edition created by the amazing Ron. Amazon also features an author page for the Philosopher that I cobbled together as an obituary for the academic institutions with which he was affiliated. You might encourage your local church or center book store person to keep a few copies of the book on hand as well.

To be continued.


August 22, 2017

What’s New About New Thought? (con’t.)

Last week, we began to ponder what in connection with New Thought might be truly said to be new. “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.” ( Ecclesiastes 1:9). The taproot of New Thought is Christianity, which is itself based on the still-older Judaism, but New Thought goes back to the teachings of Jesus rather than the teachings about Jesus. Jesus was in the habit of kicking things up to a higher level: “Ye have heard...but I say unto you....” Although he respected “the law and the prophets”, he did not allow them to trap him into lip service (talking the talk) rather than walking the walk: actually doing things differently as understanding grew. In a long-ago sermon, someone described this sort of letter-of-the-law belief system as “the pot that confines the plant”; in other words, something that was supposed to support one actually inhibiting one.

Great leaders in various disciplines throughout human history have taken the same teachings, the same data, or the same principles that everyone else had, examined them carefully, and come to quite new and different conclusions as to how to operate or how to live. At the time that the movement later known as New Thought was starting to form, this country had been torn apart by the war between the states, and to this day some people disagree concerning what it was fought about. We had come a long way from the struggles of the American Founders to separate themselves from Great Britain, which was the homeland that most of them continued to love even when it treated them unfairly. We had adopted and learned to live by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which in turn had been derived from the finest thinking of numerous European scholars. Despite being the greatest country in human history, we still had and have a lot to learn, a lot of spiritual growing to do. Much of this can be best achieved by synergizing opposing viewpoints into something better than either could have arrived at alone, as we have just seen in our examination of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But as we have also seen, it usually needs to be “Win/Win or No Deal”: we cannot compromise our basic principles just to get along with other people.

The New Thought founders insisted on a basic optimism that is to be found in Judeo-Christian tradition if one digs a bit. They understood that the way we view a problem is the problem. Beginning with P. P. Quimby, they disputed the need to be stuck in any state, be it illness of body or mind, leanness of pocketbook, or overall dissatisfaction with life, sometimes described as having one’s happiness plug fall out. As children of a King, we believe we have a right to expect good things. We have been given much to work with, and from those to whom much has been given, much is expected, as the saying goes. Noblesse oblige. But then we aren’t allowed to sit around moaning about how we are victims of this or that! We are free to adopt new discoveries in science or philosophy, to take them and run with them. One good example is teachings about evolution, which works wonderfully well for us New Thoughters if we see it as evolution by divine design. In other words, God is not jerking us around like some ill-tempered Oriental potentate; rather, he has laid out an overall path for us to walk on, one that can lead us upward in a spiral of Learn/Commit/Do, as Covey describes it.

Sometimes events have to unfold and evolve for a while before we can move forward in the way that we would really like. One good example of this is slavery, which is to be found all the way back to Biblical times. Many people recognized that it was wrong, but the time was not ripe to do much about it until other things had developed and people’s thinking had begun to shift. Many if not most of the American founders disliked slavery but found themselves locked into a system that perpetuated it. The founders therefore had to settle for partial solutions, for steps that in the future could lead to what they really wanted to see. George Washington was able to change his will so as to free his slaves at his wife’s death, but the laws of the state of Virginia changed after that so that Thomas Jefferson could not free his slaves without facing financial ruin, which would not have helped either him or his former slaves, who would have been left with no means of support. “The first act of Jefferson’s political career . . . was an attempt to make it legal for slaveowners in Virginia to emancipate their slaves. That bill was rejected, as was the condemnation of slavery in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence.” Many years later, Jefferson’s overseer at Monticello, Captain Edmund Bacon, recalled “that Jefferson had given freedom to a number of the Monticello slaves in his will. ‘I think he would have freed all of them,’ he said, ‘if his affairs had not been so much involved that he could not do it.’ (He was referring to the serious indebtedness of the estate at the time of Jefferson’s death.)”

But let’s go back to basic definitions. In our primer, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003), we stated:

In a nutshell, New Thought is expressed in Romans 12:2, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” New Thoughters seek nothing less than total life transformation, empowerment through changing their thoughts and keeping them changed. The linchpin of New Thought is the Law of Mind Action: thoughts held in mind produce after their kind. There are many ways to express this: like attracts like; as in mind, so in manifestation; as in heaven, so on earth; “them that has, gets.” This goes along with what philosophers refer to as idealism, belief that the world is really made up of thoughts or mind or spirit or living units of experience. Its opposite is materialism, belief that the world is made up of material “stuff” that one can measure, or lifeless units of energy. . . .
If this is a universe of thought, then changing one’s thought changes the universe, at least a smidgin. Current physics teaches that the act of observing changes what is observed. (page 6)

So what is new about New Thought is, first of all, our thinking at any moment.

To be continued.


August 29, 2017

What’s New About New Thought? (con’t.)

Traditionally, the definition of New Thought has been something like “the practice of the Presence of God” (borrowed from Brother Lawrence. Alan and I added “for practical purposes”.) New Thought in all its various permutations has emphasized the idea that God cares about us at every moment of every day, and wants us to have life abundantly in every way. This would include peace of mind, high-level wellness of body, harmonious relationships, and as Rev. Edwene Gaines liked to add, “all the cash you can spend”. With the current rumors that the government is about to outlaw cash, she might have to rework that one to continue to sound prosperous! Or maybe someone in some part of the government here or elsewhere will come to his or her senses and bring a few other people along. Our wonderful nation has been in tight situations more than once before, and with God’s help, we have always pulled through and eventually come out ahead. Sometimes we have to defeat a few really bad ideas first. The late great televangelist Robert H. Schuller used to tell the story of how the Egyptian Pharaohs wore a band around their foreheads in the shape of a serpent whose job was to eat all the rotten ideas before they could get into the ruler’s head and do damage. Vivid! But it needs to spread to ordinary folks and so-called elites as well as Pharaohs.

There are of course many ways to practice the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence, a lay monk, acquired some lasting fame by his method of doing so, which was to dialogue with God as he did his humble daily chores. Powerful church leaders used to come to him for advice on how to do this. I cobbled together my own definition of New Thought incorporating another approach, though not one at odds with Brother Lawrence. I got it down to “habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline”. I hope you can see that God is absolutely built into the middle of that; too many people try to secularize New Thought so that they can leave God out of the picture, usually because they objected to someone else’s idea of God. This is properly known as secular fundamentalism, because the people who want to drop God usually want to substitute someone or something else, which they intend to cram down everyone else’s throats. That is definitely not a New Thought approach! One of the hallmarks of a God worthy of worship is that he leaves it up to us to come to him rather than coercing us in some way. He figured out long ago and long ahead of us that to have us come to him of our own free will and volition is—in the long run— the most powerful method and the one that brings our Creator the greatest glory. Persuasion, not coercion, is the name of the game in New Thought and also in process thought, hence in Process New Thought!

As I mentioned previously, New Thought squarely springs from Judeo-Christian roots. The Bible is—among other things—the history of how our view of God evolved over time so that, for example, it appeared that God decided to stop visiting the sins of the fathers on the children when that idea actually came from us in the first place. The Bible, taken as a whole, is the guide that has led God’s people safely through the wilderness to the Promised Land, and that has helped us find our way home after our own individual and collective misdeeds got us into trouble. Remember Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who was astonished to find that his father welcomed him back with open arms even after he had squandered all his resources on an atrocious lifestyle.

Somewhere along the way, both Judaism and Christianity got off the track in terms of observing the letter of the law rather than its spirit. It’s easy to get so hung up on acquiring celestial brownie points—or keeping track of someone else’s failure to earn enough of them from our perspective—that we miss the real teachings of Jesus and the great spiritual leaders who preceded him. Nobody has a corner on truth, and even Jesus stressed: “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Many, if not most of us have been blessed with loving and supportive fathers, and we do not dishonor our mothers if we adopt the name Father for God, as Jesus did. It conveys both love and a reasonable amount of the discipline that a growing child needs in order to mature into a well-balanced individual who is a blessing to him- or herself and others. A good parent does not have to resort to corporal punishment to convey the ideas of natural consequences or agreed-upon consequences for our actions. Still, justice can and should be tempered with mercy at appropriate times. Then once the child has grown up, he or she can have the joy of getting to know the parents all over again as adult to adult. As we grow spiritually, we find our relationship with our loving heavenly father also growing. A certain amount of physical, mental, and spiritual self-discipline is necessary for us to be truly happy; and we need to align ourselves with the spiritual principles that God has provided us with. It isn’t a strait jacket; it’s a set of general guidelines for remembering where the path is, even if the road is temporarily covered with water. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and we can hardly wait to see what good may come out of this entire situation.

To be continued.


September 5, 2017

What’s New About New Thought? (con’t.)

After all these weeks, you are probably eager to learn what the really newest thing in New Thought is, after more than a century and a quarter or so. Well, it’s Process New Thought, the brain child of my household Philosopher, at whose feet I sat and studied for more than two decades.

Just because something is new doesn’t make it part of anything unless it is carefully woven in, binding itself to the old roots and putting out promising new shoots. You can’t just juxtapose any old things and pretend that they are welded together, especially not in philosophy, where eagle eyes and ears are alert for such scuzzy stunts. The Philosopher figured out early on that process thought (panexperientialism) was a far better philosophical foundation for New Thought than the traditional idealism. Panexperientialism includes a cleaned-up version of idealism, removing idealism’s philosophical difficulties. New Thought most of the time was resting on pantheistic ideas, and pantheism is philosophically untenable; if you are going to be a pantheist, you have to abandon philosophy in order to do it, because pantheism is loaded with philosophical inconsistencies and contradictions.

There are those who would say fine, then let’s get rid of philosophy, but that is definitely cutting off your nose to spite your face! Most of the same people would glorify science, because in their ignorance of past history they are unaware that the first scientists were philosophers; the splitoff of science came later. Yet science today is suffering from an extreme lack of values that translates into lack of integrity: faking studies and suppressing any information that does not support its sponsors’ financially motivated goals. Values are one of the specialties of philosophy; only after establishing those can one pursue theology at any length, for even theology is a branch of philosophy. The typical small-town library is organized according to the Dewey decimal system, which has 000 “Philosophy of” at the beginning of each category.

The way I like to explain it is that New Thought principles and practices are like a magnificent old mansion resting on a set of rotten foundation timbers, beneath which is rock, of course! Our job is to prop the house up and replace those rotten timbers with sound ones, all the time honoring the useful mansion on top of them.

We have outlined more than once the history of theology during which God got kicked upstairs, then made increasingly irrelevant. Those who continued to cling to their traditional beliefs in a transcendent God have been ridiculed. Some Christian churches have progressed to belief in a God who is both immanent and transcendent, combining both poles of the continuum while (one hopes) at the same time dropping out the errors from each. Immanence is mostly wound up with pantheism and leads to a loss of free will and other internal contradictions; transcendence keeps God separate from creation and limits our access to him.

The term panentheism for cleaned-up idealism was coined by “German pantheistic philosopher” Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832). “Krause claimed to be developing the true Kantian position. His orientation, however, was mystical and spiritualistic. The obscurity of his style is awesome . . . words which are untranslatable into German, let alone into English.” His complicated system “was intended to mediate between pantheism and theism; hence Krause called his position ‘Panentheism,’ to suggest the idea that God or Absolute Being is one with the world, though not exhausted by it.” Arnulf Zweig wrote the article from which these quotations are taken for the Philosopher’s beloved Encyclopedia of Philosophy (v. 4, Macmillan/Free Press, 1967). In our jointly authored New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003), chapter 2 is titled “Philosophical and Organizational Aspects” and sets the background for much of this; chapter 6 is Alan’s famous “Something New in New Thought”, to which I contributed just a couple of introductory paragraphs and a bit of editing to make this chapter readable enough to suit our first publisher, Mike Leach (then at Crossroad). Here is a sample:

What we call Process New Thought is New Thought that uses traditional New Thought techniques, but substitutes insights of process philosophy for the traditional substance approaches to philosophy commonly employed in New Thought. In other words, the Process New Thoughter does essentially the same things that the Substance New Thoughter does, but has a different understanding of what is going on. The use of process thought also provides NewThought with new connections to the academic world. Of great importance, a process understanding can cut New Thought’s Gordian knot of thinking about the creative process, especially the role of Law in it. (page 147)

The really heavy lifting involved in Process New Thought starts with the beginning of process philosophy in 1925, or maybe in 1924 when the ship conveying A.N. Whitehead and his wife from England docked in Boston. Whitehead had just retired from a long and highly successful career as a professor of physics and co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica when he was invited to come to Harvard for a whole new career as a philosophy professor, beginning with the Lowell Lectures of 1925, later published as Science and the Modern World. Our foundation replacement timbers are about to be sawn.

To be continued.


September 12, 2017

What’s New About New Thought? (con’t.)

Ambling across the hall into the C. Alan Anderson Memorial Library and Maritime Museum to search for the process theology primers, I was not surprised to encounter yet another one: Nicholas Rescher, Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy (1996, SUNY). The Philosopher acquired it in January of 2002 and left a bookmark in the chapter titled “Process Theology”, so I know he sent for it and got at least somewhat involved with it. Most of it is far too heavy for our purposes here unless you have your black belt in systematic theology, and I don’t! So I will encourage you to acquire and read our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003) with special attention to the chapter, “Something New in New Thought”, but I always like to add a few new touches to what we have already written.

Rescher lists the predecessors to process though as Heraclitus, Plato and Aristotle; and the important processists as Leibniz, Hegel, C. S. Peirce, William James, Bergson, Dewey, Whitehead, and Sheldon. He stresses the difference between a substance approach to philosophy and a process approach: the world is not static, but dynamic. He states: “In recent years, ‘process philosophy’ has virtually become a code word for the doctrines of Alfred North Whitehead and his followers.” He adds, “[It] is not simply the commonplace recognition of natural process as the active initiator of what exists in nature but an insistence on seeing process as constituting an essential aspect of everything that exists....” He does a nice job of describing “the dialogue or debate between theoreticians and experimentalists.” The ball gets passed back and forth from the one group to the other. The world doesn’t need very many theoreticians, but those that there are do a vital job of shaping the research done by the experimentalists. But let’s get to the “Process Theology” chapter. We are abandoning a substance view of the world and God in favor of a process view, but “not all process philosophers are theists . . . The theists see God as a major player in the realm of cosmic process, accounting for the world’s order and intelligibility, its creative dynamism, and its teleological normativity.” Process theologians see God as within creation and participating in it, which solves a great many thorny theological problems. God and the world are “processually interconnected”. As Alan put it, “God has a finger in every pie”. Rescher paraphrases Charles Hartshorne as insisting that God is neither separate from the world nor pantheistically immanent in nature. This solves some of the problems the church fathers had with how God could know what human beings were undergoing, and in allowing for “chance, chaos, and choice”, it allows for free will. Whitehead insisted that God is not a principle but an actual entity. My household Philosopher studied with the Boston Personalists, and process theology “makes it easier and less problematic to understand the nature of God as a person (the Ultimate Person) and this being’s participating role in relation to the world”. This “also makes it vastly easier to provide a philosophical rationale for many . . . of the leading conceptions of Judeo-Christian religiosity”.

Here is Alan’s summary of Process New Thought (as contrasted with Old Christian Thought and Substance New Thought) from our chapter 6:

Reality is creative process.
Becoming is basic.
You are experience.
Soul is a succession of momentarily existing selves (serial selfhood).
Objective and subjective immortality.
God is immanent and transcendent (panentheism).
God co-creates by participating in blending of past and possible.
God always has had a universe of some sort; all creation is co-creation, this always has been so.
Universe is God’s body.
Matter is collection of many relatively lowly minds (experiences).
God is growing experientially, yet constant morally.
God is wise, alluring, persuasive Love.
God is personal, impartial, and acts by giving initial aims.
God gives tailor-made possibilities (initial aims).
God initiates. We must respond to God’s initial guiding aim of each moment.

Prayer (a form of acceptance of God’s offerings) helps create momentary self, giving immediate enjoyment and enriching the next self’s past by becoming part of it, thereby making it easier for the next self to accept God’s initial aim.
Christ is the presence of God, understood as initial aim of each momentary self (occasion of experience).

Law is an abstraction describing habits of interaction of occasions of experience.

(From chart, pages 161-163)

As I mentioned last week, Whitehead only got going on process thought in 1925, by which time New Thought was well under way with varying philosophies ranging from traditional Judeo-Christianity to Eastern pantheism. One of the Philosopher’s early acquisitions was Eugene Peters The Creative Advance: An Introduction to Process Philosophy as a Context for Christian Faith (1966, St. Louis, MO, The Bethany Press). It includes a comment by Charles Hartshorne. From the Preface:

To speak of process philosophy is to suggest the idea that reality is at base dynamic and changing. Indeed, for process philosophy God himself is not static. Of course, a changing whole may contain (may even require) fixed parts. Process philosophers have no interest in stripping the world of all permanence. Their intent is rather to conceive the world with process as the inclusive category. The ultimate units of reality are seen to be “drops of experience” emerging as actualities by virtue of their relatedness to past actualities. Ceaseless, creative advance from the settled past to the (relatively) novel present is the most fundamental character of reality. Anything whatsoever must be interpreted as a fact or factor within the creative advance. (page 9)

Another basic primer is Cobb and Griffin’s Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1976, Philadelphia, The Westminster Press). These co-founders of the Center for Process Studies do a great job of making a complex subject understandable. Newer still is C. Robert Mesle’s Process Theology: A Basic Introduction (1993, St. Louis, MO, Chalice Press). Mesle nontheistically describes God as a sort of hot fudge sundae but then courageously turns the whole topic over to John Cobb at the end and gets politely stood on his head!

If you are one of the many fugitives from traditional Christianity who has found your way to New Thought but are still dissatisfied with the less-than-rigorous thinking that undergirds so much of it, one or more of the works listed here may be just what you have been looking for. Or stick with me; from here I am going into a slower breakdown of some of these important issues. But first, I am going thankfully out the door into blue skies, puffy white clouds, and bits of sunshine following Hurricane Irma’s romp through Florida.


September 19, 2017

Process New Thought

Having been led with unmoistened foot through Irma’s waters, I want to pause for a moment in gratitude before resuming our new-every-moment pursuits. Even though Irma may not have been quite as horrific as it had been painted by the media, it was certainly bad enough by any reckoning, and there are still many people digging out, not to mention those still struggling with the aftermath of Harvey. But it could have been still worse, were it not for God at work offering all those perfect possibilities, those initial aims for each occasion of experience, including those collections of occasions known as you and me and our friends and relatives, not to mention those making up the tracks and potential tracks of hurricanes, tropical depressions, and such. And all of us did say yes to God quite a bit, as did those aggregates of occasions not driven by an immediate governing mind and usually referred to as weather. Healer Agnes Sanford, towards the end of her life, specialized in working to influence earthquakes and hurricanes into directions where fewer people might get hurt.

What is possibly the most noteworthy thing about the whole situation is that, although government organizations have performed admirably in many more places than before, the vast majority of effort has come from volunteers, mostly from Christian organizations. I saw only one column documenting this, because once again, the mainstream media are just ignoring it. For one thing, great bodies move slowly, and local volunteers are bound to be on the scene faster than government bodies. But people from all walks of life have fallen to and gotten to work cleaning things up in amazing fashion. A lot of this can be attributed to their not sitting around moaning about their victimhood; they just get busy mitigating damage in whatever ways they can. Of course, many of them have marvelous stories to tell, which will seem a lot funnier to them later.

My mention of Mrs. Sanford has driven me back to her autobiography, Sealed Orders. Apparently, she did not think much of New Thought even though many New Thoughters have found her work most congenial. (I think she just didn’t get exposed to much New Thought, although she did read and like Emmet Fox.) After living in the northeast for many years, she had reached a point where she felt led to move to somewhere else, but where? Right about then, there was a severe earthquake in Alaska, and she developed a premonition about California and points north, where she had friends and relatives. She prayed, and the earthquake “just missed being a really destructive one and caused little or no damage.” Although she couldn’t of course prove that her prayers had anything to do with it, she felt better; a heavy feeling lifted from her. She continues:

About this time I heard of various prophecies of earthquakes in Southern California. . . . Now, even though I had prayed about the Washington earthquake from a distance, still I felt that one could do better on the spot. I had found from experience that my friends and I could pray away a hurricane in an almost laughable manner if it were coming toward the East Coast [where she lived], but that hurricanes far away in the Gulf did not seem to respond to our prayers. So I decided to move to Southern California. (page 291)

And she did!

What is particularly admirable about Mrs. Sanford is that, in addition to having an extraordinary gift for both hands-on and healing at a distance, she was very laid back about one’s theology and had an additional gift for reaching people precisely where they were in their understanding of God and Jesus. The daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, she grew up in China with its distinctive culture, then married an Episcopal priest, expecting to continue to live in that culture, but found herself abruptly transported back to the U.S. and having to live a lifestyle for which she was completely unprepared along with a set of beliefs quite different from those with which she had grown up. It took some doing, but she eventually accomplished it all magnificently; and it all contributed to her later successes.

What does any of this have to do with Process New Thought? Not much, except that in it we see the same sort of melding of two cultures and belief systems. We are going from a substance (sub stare), static view of the world to a process view of the world. The easiest way to visualize this is to think of a series of still photographs (substance view) as contrasted with frames of a movie (process view). We are going from static to dynamic, from an unchanging world to a world in which change is the only constant. When I was a little girl, an occasional box of Cracker Jack might contain a thumb-size flip book of a cartoon. If you riffled through the pages, Mickey could be seen to raise his arm, but it was “really” just a series of still photographs fastened together. That is the basic concept of process thought as contrasted with the old substance view of things. Everything proceeds from there. It makes it much easier to understand how “thoughts held in mind produce after their kind”, because we are building on the pattern of the past, as Alan liked to call it. With each additional occasion of experience—moment of now—we build up that pattern until reaching the desired goal is just as easy as flipping the next page of the little book. It is easy to see how negativity from ourselves or from others can build up and do us damage, but it is equally true that if we can maintain the view of what we really want, we make it a lot easier to get it, or something even better. That includes a clean, orderly world in which the heavy storms have removed a lot of debris and cleared the way for new, healthy growth. Or better, more beautiful buildings!


September 26, 2017

Constructive Postmodern Thought

In case you hadn’t noticed, modern is long gone. Only graybeards and grannies now use the term, which tends to make one blink, if one has been on the earth for any great length of time. We are now seemingly into postmodernity, postmodern being a rather unimaginative term that scholars have come up with as a label for the stage our culture seems to be at, at present.

Despite my best efforts, my office still seems to sport one or two huh? piles. You know: the ones you idly thumb through, fail to categorize clearly, and go, “Huh?” A recent perusal of one such produced an ancient paper by the Philosopher. I say “ancient” because it is in Courier and sports a staple at a straight angle rather than a rakish angle such as I would have produced, left to my own devices. This tells me that it was a product of the Curry College faculty services department, pre-moi, at which time he was induced to learn WordPerfect with its more sophisticated font selection. It is titled “Some Highlights of Process Thought” (black-belt philosophers will note that word “some”). So what is this thing, anyway? Well, it begins: “Quotations, with page references, from David Ray Griffin on Charles Hartshorne (born 1897) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) in Griffin et al., Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).”

Now we can cut to the chase: this volume reposes serenely on a bookshelf directly behind his chair in the Philosopher’s memorial library. It is one of a series of volumes in the SUNY series in Constructive Postmodern Thought, edited by David Ray Griffin, co-founder with John Cobb, Jr. of the Center for Process Studies at the School of Theology at Claremont. At the time (1993), Cobb was emeritus but still very much involved, and Griffin was executive director. These two dedicated scholars had together issued a Corrected Edition of one of Whitehead’s major works (Whitehead was a notoriously poor editor but a superb scholar). The SUNY series boasted eight volumes, plus the present volume.

Please note: this is constructive postmodern philosophy. Most postmodern philosophy is destructive, and it has succeeded in its evil purpose of undermining not just philosophy (how many universities have closed their philosophy departments altogether?), but all of postmodern civilization in an effort to establish statist/communist/Marxist philosophy as the norm, not to argue philosophically with other well-established and more wholesome points of view, but to establish this repeatedly failed approach as a quasi-religion from which anyone who disagrees is a heretic and to be treated as such.

The volume we are presently considering covers Peirce, William James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne. The Philosopher’s notes cover the final chapter on Hartshorne, written by David Ray Griffin. They begin with the characteristics of modern philosophy and segue into postmodern. Begins Griffin:

Modern philosophy is self-destructing. This process of self-destruction has been going on for some time, but has become more obvious in recent times, especially through the discussions evoked by the writings of Richard Rorty, Jacques Derrida, and related thinkers. Philosophers are not only denying, as positivists long have, that philosophy has any capacity to discover truth beyond that learned through the natural sciences; they are even saying that philosophy cannot declare the results of science to be true, in the sense of corresponding to reality in some significant way. This relativism is sometimes called “postmodernism.” These relativistic postmodern philosophers deny that philosophy has any unique role to play in the culture. Books have recently appeared with titles such as After Philosophy and Ethics Without Philosophy. (page 197)

At first blush, this is just plain awful, but when one looks at the constructive postmodernism of Whitehead and Hartshorne:

this self-immolation of modern philosophy is neither surprising nor disturbing. It is not surprising because modern philosophy has from the beginning been based on faulty premises. It is not disturbing because the self-elimination of modern philosophy will create a void that may be filled by a postmodern philosophy that can perform the cultural tasks of philosophy in a more adequate way. (page 198)

Griffin is about to give us “three basic theories of postmodern philosophy, and how these have led to its self-destruction”, then go on to the postmodern perspectives of Whitehead and Hartshorne, which reject these modern theories but do not return to premodern modes of thought. Then we move along to Hartshorne’s development of the postmodern perspective in a way that “overcomes several problems that have long plagued modern philosophy and that recently led to its self-destruction”. This will get us into panexperientialism, radical empiricism, and naturalistic theism, but Hartshorne has carried these ideas further down the road. Alan has noted these basic characteristics of modern philosophy and then moved on with Griffin from there. Hang in there: God has here sown the seeds of the way out of our current cultural messes. The worm is turning! Both Whitehead and Hartshorne were the sons of Anglican clergymen, and they both knew their Bibles.

To be continued.


October 3, 2017

More Constructive Postmodern Thought

An ancient handout by the Philosopher, “Some Highlights of Process Thought”, took me back to its source, a collection of papers /essays concerning certain titans whose works led to the creation of process philosophy, which in turn led to the Philosopher’s Process New Thought. In view of all the idi—er—lovely people who still can’t distinguish New Thought from New Age, despite New Thought’s century-and-a-quarter head start, we—the faithful remnant—must continue our efforts to assume the mantle of the Philosopher, familiar as he was with both New Thought and process thought. It is amazing to pick up an otherwise valuable work by a recognized scholar and find total ignorance with no mention of New Thought, or confounding it with either New Age or Christian Science, or else living in a sheltered little philosophically materialistic world, unaware that at any moment he or she can set down the pilgrim’s staff and poke a head through the blue dome of heaven to behold the wonders there.

Destructive postmodern philosophy has gone down in flames, having done itself in rather nicely. Those who wanted to do in philosophy altogether have “Danced around the funeral pyre/ Playing a violin”. As David Ray Griffin pointed out in a quotation from last week’s post, modern philosophy “is self-destructing”, so there wasn’t much to be hoped for from plain ordinary barndoor-variety destructive postmodernism. It was set up to fail by proclaiming that everything is relative and hence meaningless, so we should ignore it and go our merry way. But this plunges destructive postmodern philosophers into dualism and other sticky wickets, although most of them don’t care.

When the roof falls in on the entire world, as it appears to be about to do, many of us begin to ask ourselves what we can trust, where our faith lies with respect to what underlies this world. Philosophy at its best helps us to do this, supplying as it does a track to run on for our theology. Our view of the nature of Ultimate Reality sustains us through whatever we may face, so long as that Reality (which most of us would spell G-O-D) is wholly good, fair, dependable, consistent, and everywhere present and available. The Bible, taken as a whole, has helped many of us. It reflects the way in which our view of God has changed through the ages, for God’s loving primordial character does not change, even though his consequent nature changes with each moment of now. This is how we creatures contribute our bit to God, moment by moment.

But let’s get back to Griffin’s take on Hartshorne, as paraphrased and summarized by the Philosopher (and the bolds are all his):

Formally, modern philosophy includes various dualisms, including matter and mind, determinism and freedom, facts and values, science and theology, ethics, aesthetics, and objective (facts) and subjective (values) (this including the others). It also includes theory and practice: scientific-philosophic theory v. presuppositions of practice (such as interaction of mind and matter, the reality of values).

Substantively, there are three basic theories of modernism:

1. (Ontology) a mechanistic, materialistic, nonanimistic doctrine of nature (“that the basic units of nature have neither experience nor the power of self-movement” or freedom).

2. (Epistemology) a sensationist doctrine of perception (“that all of our experience of the world beyond ourselves is through our physical senses and hence is limited to the types of things these senses are suited to perceive—namely, physical objects.”)

3. A denial that divinity is naturally present in the world. (This “follows from the first two theories. If natural entities have nothing like mind or experience, a cosmic mind or experience cannot be present in them. . . . Modern philosophers (including modern natural and social scientists) have sought to understand the world on the basis of the theory that its normal processes are fully intelligible in principle apart from any reference to divine presence.”)

What postmodernism does is carry through to their logical conclusions these three doctrines of modern philosophy. (For this reason, this movement should be called mostmodern philosophy instead of postmodern.) [witticism Griffin’s]

We are almost to the bottom of Alan’s first page of his handout, but this bit is important, providing us with the transition from modern to postmodern. We will soon see why destructive (ordinary) postmodernism didn’t have a prayer. Modernism had already messed up much that was good. To wind this up for now, I will borrow from another Griffin book, Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004). After stating that both scientific naturalism and Christianity have been very ambiguous movements, Griffin adds, “Christian faith in its traditional form was terribly arrogant.” However, because naturalism was understood as sensationist/atheist/materialist, “modern liberal theology lost confidence and became extremely timid.” Griffin continues, “The question before us now . . . is whether we can, without returning to supernaturalistic interpretations of Christian faith, with their arrogance, move beyond this timidity to respectful confidence.” Hint: the answer is yes, based on Whitehead’s version of naturalism, which replaces materialistic naturalism with panentheistic naturalism. Two Great Truths is a great book, based on a series of lectures delivered by Griffin in a community church and tailored to that congregation. It’s breezier than Griffin’s philosophy books but quite meaty all the same. It goes full circle to the precursors treated in the Griffin book we are presently considering with the help of Alan’s handout.

(To be continued.)


October 10, 2017

Still More Constructive Postmodern Thought

Last week, we covered the three basic theories of modernism, theories which destructive (ordinary) postmodernism “carries through to their logical conclusions” [i.e., trashes, reveals as nonsense]. These three theories “largely account for modern philosophy’s inability to explain the presuppositions of human practice”. As paraphrased by our Philosopher, they are:

1. Mind-body interaction (leading to identification of mind and brain, operating deterministically, as does everything else) (page 199)

2. Knowledge of world (beginning with belief that we directly perceive physical objects, Hume showed that sense-perception “provides nothing but sense-data,” nothing beyond our own experience; and Santayana added solipsism of the present moment.)

3. Knowledge of values (While most intellectuals have not gone so far as to deny knowledge of the world, they have denied knowledge of values.)

Modernity has held that the natural sciences [given a special place of recognition] give us truth about the physical world, but that ethics, aesthetics, and theology are incapable in principle of delivering truth, because sensory perception provides us with no knowledge of their alleged nonphysical objects. [But] Relativistic postmodernism wants to bring science down to the same level as the other cultural pursuits by declaring it no more competent than they to discover truth. It attempts to do this by attacking the notion of truth as such, in the sense of correspondence between idea and reality.

[This takes me back some decades to the work of Nobel prize-winning American poet and later British subject T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). From a 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men”:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

A clipping by Matthew Benjamin from the Investor’s Business Daily, 1-28-2000, mentions that Eliot, while a student at Harvard, “looked for mentors who could impart their learning and experience to him”. One such was Bertrand Russell, Whitehead’s co-author of Principia Mathematica. Readers “find that much of Eliot’s work has a dreary view of the modern age. The reason is that Eliot was often saddened by what he saw around him”. But “he wanted to convey an underlying sense of spirituality”. Note that 1925 was when Whitehead began his formal career as a philosopher at Harvard. Could Whitehead have been another such mentor for Eliot?]

In pushing the doctrines of modern philosophy to their logical conclusions “this movement should be called mostmodern philosophy instead of postmodern.” (page 200) [Yes, the Philosopher put this quotation in twice.]

Now on page 201, we turn to Hartshorne’s philosophy:

(We may give serious attention to these perhaps silly-sounding ideas, since it has been shown in practice that the predominant theories of modern philosophy are incoherent; they are self-destructive.)

[Griffin has already explained that the philosophy of Whitehead and Hartshorne can be called postmodern because “it rejects these basic theories of modern philosophy without returning to premodern thought”, and showing “how it overcomes several problems that have long plagued modern philosophy and that have recently led to its self-destruction”. Whitehead shares with Hartshorne ideas of panexperientialism, radical empiricism, and naturalistic theism.]

[Modern intellectuals have been led to deny knowledge of values, leading to self-contradictions, the kiss of death for any philosophical theory. For example, modernity has “relentlessly sought to replace primitive and medieval ‘falsehood’ with modern ‘truth,’ while denying that we have any knowledge that truth is better than falsehood. . . .

The recent call by relativistic postmodernism for an end to philosophy is closely related to this invidious distinction between science and the other realms of culture, especially the aesthetic-literary realm. The attack on philosophy is due in large part to modern philosophy’s role in the authentication of natural science as the one source of truth, which gave it an overwhelmingly disproportionate role in determining the nature of modern culture. (pages 200-201)

So destructive postmodern philosophy has succeeded in destroying itself. Good! Now we can take another run at the entire subject of how things have to be in order to be at all.]

We will resume with Hartshorne’s philosophy next week.


October 17, 2017

Furthermore Constructive Postmodern Thought

The Philosopher continues to explain Hartshorne’s philosophy by paraphrasing Griffin on page 201:

As Hartshorne has emphasized, philosophy can be clear and consistent only [1] insofar as it recognizes that the general principles by which we live our lives and interpret our experience are derived from a form of perception more basic than sensory perception, [2] insofar as it affirms a postmodern animism, according to which all individuals experience and exercise self-determination, and [3] insofar as it is explicitly theistic. From this perspective, a sensationist, nonanimistic, atheistic philosophy was bound to self-destruct, and the fulfillment of this prediction provides some empirical evidence for the truth of the Whiteheadian-Hartshornean postmodern position.

Hartshorne’s philosophy:

1. explains matter as the outer appearance of something that from the inside is analogous to our own experience.

2. solves the mind-body interaction problem by explaining that we and our bodily cells feel each other’s feelings.

3. overcomes the implied dualism of materialism, which admits experiencing individuals (ourselves) but claims that there are nonexperiencing individuals, which inexplicably produced minds.

[At this point, Griffin shifts gears in preparation for moving to part two of his four-part essay. He is going to “spell out this philosophy in terms of the three features that make it most clearly postmodern” so we don’t go backward]:

its animism or panexperientialism, which differentiates it from the dualism, materialism, and phenomenalism among which modern thought has felt constrained to choose; its radical empiricism, in comparison with which modern sensationism is seen to be a very superficial form of empiricism; and its naturalistic theism, which differentiates it equally from the supernaturalism of early modernity and the atheism of late modernity. A philosophy based on animism, nonsensory perception, and theism will, of course, sound quaint, if not outrageous, to modern ears. But if we keep in mind that modern philosophy, based on the denial of these three doctrines, is self-destructing, and that the modern world, which supports and is supported by the modern worldview, is wired to self-destruct, we may be able to suspend our modern prejudices sufficiently to consider the arguments for these doctrines (pages 201-202)

[I find it reassuring that this space-shot constructive postmodern philosophy can go back and link to some of these “quaint” ideas, clean them up, and reintroduce them in contemporary garb.]

My household Philosopher continues with his notes:

Hartshorne explains the unpopularity of panexperientialism on the basis of usual sensory experience’s failure to reveal any animation (having experience and exercising self-determination) in such things as rocks, and answers it with four replies: (1) [yes, the walls of the in-the-hole numbers vary!] the distinction of knowing from within and from without. (2) the indistinctness of sensory perception. Science has helped to show the error of believing the microscopic world to be inert. (3) the difference between aggregates and compound individuals. Animals have mind or soul (Leibniz’s “dominant monad”) that (205)

turns the multiplicity into a true individual by giving it a unity of feeling and purpose, so that it can respond as a unified whole to its environment. In mere aggregates, such as a rock, by contrast, no such dominating experience exists. The highest centers of feeling and self-determination are the molecules comprising the rock. Without a dominating center, the various movements cancel out each other, so that the rock as a whole stays put unless pushed or pulled from without. The passivity of the rock is hence a statistical effect.. . . . Animism is true for individuals, while mechanism is true for aggregates of individuals.

(4) the difference between high-grade and low-grade individuals.

(205) the human mind is a series of very high-grade experiences, with consciousness, self-consciousness, and hence very sophisticated purposes, [while] the individuals constiuting matter are very low-grade individuals, with feeling but no consciousness, let alone self-consciousness, and hence very short-range purposes.

[Alan liked to point out that a rock or a steel bar is “deader than a doornail”, but the occasions of experience comprising it are alive; and each has a tiny bit of freedom to choose.]


4. makes both time and natural law intelligible.

Dead matter would neither remember nor anticipate. We can only “conceive of a unity of the past, present and future, Hartshorne points out, through memory and anticipation.” “For dualism and materialism . . . the objective temporal order is unintelligible.”

Next week, we will find out what panexperientialism solves.


October 24, 2017

Evermore Constructive Postmodern Thought

As promised, the Philosopher continues paraphrasing or quoting from page 207. More on point 4 from his outline: Panexperientialism solves

the “problem of induction”—the problem of why we should believe the present laws of nature will hold true in the future. Materialists and dualists have assumed that the laws of physics will hold true throughout all time, while having no reason why they should hold through tomorrow. The Whiteheadian-Hartshornean position holds (in agreement with James and Peirce) that the so-called laws of nature are really its most long-lasting habits, the habits of those low-level societies with very little spontaneity with which to diverge from the patterns inherited from the past. [Although not eternal, they probably aren’t going to change in the next few thousand years or so.]

5. Is increasingly, if unintentionally, being supported by the natural sciences, which can discredit false metaphysical positions, through (1) undermining the view that ultimate units are inert and fully determined, (2) showing that nature is “a complex of events, not of enduring substances,” (3) showing that space and time are inseparable, so everything is related to time (which process thought considers real), (4) showing that “the difference between matter and primitive life forms is merely a difference of degree,” (5) showing that microscopic animals can do things without having specialized organs, and that bacteria have memory and make decisions based on it. [Gee, maybe that is why we keep getting bigger and badder bacteria in response to each new and improved antibiotic produced by Big Pharma!] (208)


6 [th benefit of panexperientialism] clarifies perception and memory, with memory (as well as perception) understood as “direct prehension of antecedent events.” [prehend= take in, grasp, nonsensory perception]


The fact that memory and perception have all been explained in terms of a common principle brings us to Hartshorne’s strongest basis for advocating panexperientialism to the scientific and philosophic communities. The drive of both science and philosophy, he holds, is toward conceptual integration. The goal is to explain as many phenomena as possible in terms of the fewest basic categories. Through Whitehead’s category of prehension—the nonsensory sympathetic perception of antecedent experiences—we are able to reduce several apparently very different types of relations to one fundamental type of relation. The category of prehension explains not only memory and perception, which seem different enough at first glance, but also temporality, space {[Alan’s brackets 210 The spatial relation is a complication of time; whereas time results from a single line of inheritance.]} causality, enduring personality (or substance), the mind-body relation, the subject-object relation in general, and the God-world relation. [Griffin here crows that he has just reduced nine relations to one!]

7. Relates theory to practice, especially in science (provides theories adequate to supporting what is presupposed in science and philosophy) . . . .


8. effects a unification of our various forms of theory. (1) it overcomes the bifurcation between the natural and social sciences.

Human beings are natural and all things are social.

Mechanistic, nonstatistical laws apply not to the fundamental processes of nature but only to the derivative processes between aggregates. . . . natural laws have already been elevated to sociological laws.
[It] provides the basis for unifying epistemology and scientific cosmology with ethics, aesthetics, and philosophy of religion or natural theology.
. . . natural science is put on the same footing with these other cultural pursuits.    Unlike relativistic postmodernism, however, panexperientialist postmodernism puts the natural sciences on the same cognitive level with ethics, aesthetics, and theology not by denying that [212] science discovers truth, but by affirming that these other cultural pursuits are also pursuits of truth, that they also are cognitive enterprises.
Panexperientialism’s key notion . . . sympathetic-creative value experience

is basic for understanding all fields. [I have attempted to keep Alan’s indents and spacing exactly as he had it, for better or for worse, deliberate or accidental. What do I know?!]

[At this point, Griffin inserts some marvelous notions of the pluriversity again becoming a university, “in which courses in physics, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, ethics, and aesthetics would help students achieve an integrated view of themselves and the universe”, so we could get away from “a structure that presupposes absolute dichotomies between the supernatural and the natural, the animate and the inanimate, the sentient and the insentient, the social and the mechanistic, the human and the natural”. And here we come to Griffin’s third section: Theism, Panexperientialism, and Deep Empiricism.]

To be continued.


October 31, 2017

Construct Your Own Postmodern Thought

The Philosopher here skips from page 212 to page 219, not because he hadn’t read them. The margins are full of numerals that match Hartshorne’s points, plus a few of the Philosopher’s famous squiggles of importance. Here are the squiggles from pages 212-213:

“[Hartshorne] says that most errors about God involve errors about the world, and vice versa. His theism is, in fact, part and parcel of his panexperientialism, and his panexperientialism is part and parcel of his theism. Each implies the other.”

[Hartshorne says that] “the idea of God contains implicitly the entire content of metaphysics”. He accordingly says: “Theism is not an adjunct to a world view; fully thought out, it is the most coherent of all explicit world views.” Hartshorne can even sound like the Vince Lombardi of theism, saying: “The theistic question . . . is not one more question, even the most important one. It is, on the fundamental level, and when all its implications are taken into account, the sole question.”
Fully thought out, Hartshorne maintains, theism implies panexperientialism, the philosophy of shared creative experience. If God is mind with infinite capacity, “then the zero of mind would be the zero of reality.” If God is infinite creative capacity, “the zero of this capacity which determinism posits must be the zero of the manifestation or presence of God” and hence “the zero of reality itself.” If God is infinite love, then “the zero case of love could only be the total absence of deity.”

On page 214, Griffin lists six of many ways in which traditional theism makes an intelligible, consistent, and credible philosophy impossible. It winds up: “One reason that Hartshorne is distressed by this traditional idea of God is that it has led, by reaction, to complete atheism.” Griffin has covered this in his works on early and late modernism. “Modern philosophy became atheistic, however, not only because of problems inherent in traditional theism but also because the modern worldview rules out any significant idea of God.” He then lists four reasons why. He winds up the page: “The obstacles to theism created by both theistic supernaturalism and mechanistic naturalism are solved by Hartshorne’s postmodern panexperientialism, to which theism is integral. The theism that is integral to this panexperientialism is a naturalistic, not a supernaturalistic, theism.” Griffin has covered this at great length elsewhere, so it ends up here: (squiggle) “The nature of the relations between God and the world is therefore a natural, necessary feature of reality.” [If you have struggled to reconcile various modern theistic positions with reality, this should have you sighing with relief!]

“Evil results from multiple finite freedom, and any world God could have created would have had multiple finite freedom. (squiggle) The possibility of evil is necessary.” [Griffin has written at least a couple of books all about the problem of evil, which is only a problem if God is good; otherwise, what would you expect?]

Sticking to the major issues rather than getting sidetracked into other important things, we jump to page 218, which is festooned with squiggles. Here are a couple of biggies:

[Hartshorne] is often considered to be a rationalist as opposed to an empiricist. And this characterization has considerable support in Hartshorne’s writings. He makes a strong distinction between science, which must use the empirical method, and metaphysics, whose method should be nonempirical or a priori. Metaphysical or necessary truths, such as the existence of God, are to be discovered a priori, through an analysis of meanings.
[Hartshorne] says that he first came to hold panexperientialism through the recognition that nature as immediately given is essentially feeling. He furthermore endorses “the whole drive of modern philosophy to relate concepts to perceptions” and endorses the empiricist principle that all meaningful ideas are derived from experience and refer to experience.

[Top of 219]

Whether or not it was wise to refer to metaphysics as a priori and nonempirical, Hartshorne has clearly stated that metaphysics is not unrelated to experience. To call metaphysical concepts a priori means they are prior not to all experience but only to particular, contingent aspects of experience.

Locke’s “innate ideas” for Hartshorne “are directly perceived or intuited by the soul at each moment”. Hartshorne rejects “modernity’s restriction of perception to sense-perception”, so his “postmodern philosophy can give a naturalistic explanation of these universal ideas. Relativistic postmodernism, by contrast, which denies that there is any deep layer common to all people, follows from retaining early modernity’s sensationism while rejecting its supernaturalism.

We will rejoin the Philosopher’s outline next week.


November 7, 2017

Constructive Postmodern Thought (we’re still thinking!)

Implicit Arguments and Need for God

On page 219, the Philosopher has squiggled: “[John Locke’s ‘innate ideas’] are directly perceived or intuited by the soul at each moment. By rejecting modernity’s restriction of perception to sense-perception, Hartshorne’s postmodern philosophy can give a naturalistic explanation of these universal ideas.”

“The task of metaphysics, is . . . simply to formulate explicitly, and thereby to make us more conscious of, what we all already know in an implicit, preconscious way.”

“That everyone knows or believes in the universal truths becomes evident in their action, which is the ultimate expression of what we most deeply believe.”

[Returning to our outline, the Philosopher paraphrases a section that kicks off some really interesting reasoning, to be verified by observing ourselves and others:]

219-220 Our actions reveal our universal beliefs. We may assert incorrect ones, such as determinism, but we don’t live them.

Griffin, on 220 [bolding is Alan’s]:

With the pragmatists, Hartshorne says that, if a doctrine cannot be lived, it cannot be true, and no one really believes it.
Hartshorne puts belief in God in the same class. . . . “[A]t some point [all people] betray that they know, that the object of our total allegiance is God.” The difference between believers and unbelievers is, therefore, “nothing but a difference in self-consciousness and consistency in regard to what all believe ‘at heart.’” “The real argument for God,” Hartshorne says, “is just that every view which tries to deny him also denies . . . some practically indispensable belief.”

including the reality of

[1] truth, [2] the past, [3] an inclusive ideal, and [4] an ultimate purpose to our lives.
[1] Apart from an all-inclusive perspective, there is no locus for that complete truth whose existence is presupposed everytime [sic][Alan] we criticize an inadequate perspective on reality.
[2] Apart from a cosmic memory, there is no conceivable locus for truths about the past, yet historians and the rest of us constantly presuppose that assertions about the past can be true or false.
[3] Apart from belief in a cosmic ideal and evaluation, we cannot account for our common conviction that there is a standard of importance and value in terms of which to criticize inadequate human desires.
[4] Without belief in a cosmic and permanent receiver of value-experiences, we cannot make sense of the idea, which we all presuppose at some level, that our experiences and decisions have an ultimate meaning.

[I remember reading somewhere that Whitehead claimed that when he sat down to do systematic philosophy, he couldn’t account for any novelty in the universe without postulating the existence of God. The arguments of Hartshorne’s that we have just gone over seem to show us why Whitehead would say that.]

Meanings of Good, Truth, Past, Reality, and Theism

[We are still on page 220, which has big squiggles. The Philosopher gets off the page by quoting Griffin quoting Hartshorne:]

Good is that “which is good in the eyes of God.”
Truth is “conformity to what is experienced by an omnipresent ‘observer.’”
The past is “what unlimited or cosmic memory can never forget.”
Reality is “that which God knows”.
We find God “in our fundamental meanings,” Hartshorne says.
Theism is hence simply the elucidation of the full bearings of unavoidable word use, categorical meanings. . . .”
We presuppose all these ideas, Hartshorne maintains, because God not only exists necessarily but is also necessarily present in our awareness, at some level.
Theism is, accordingly, implicitly present in our basic beliefs and meanings. A philosophy that denies theism necessarily denies at the explicit level various beliefs that it is implicitly presupposing. An atheistic philosophy, therefore, can never be consistent.

All you black-belt philosophers already know that consistency is one of the guiding stars for all of philosophy. We can start to understand that atheism is itself a religion despite what it may say about itself, and all it does is muddy the philosophical waters just ahead of science. As a professor of quantum physics, Whitehead was into cutting-edge science long before he got into philosophy as his second career late in life.

To be continued.


November 14, 2017

Reviewing Constructive Postmodern Thought

We are continuing to work our way through a handout that the Philosopher constructed at some indeterminate time in the past to accompany an article in a volume, Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy. The book was edited by David Ray Griffin, who also wrote the article in question, “Charles Hartshorne”. This section concludes the handout.

Section IV of the Griffin article is titled “The Practical Importance of Explicit Metaphysical Beliefs”. Griffin has just clarified that

by associating the word “God” with the classical idea of God should not lead us to misunderstand Hartshorne’s argument here. . . . He is . . . saying that the presuppositions of our practice show that no one really believes in this idea of God. No one can really live in terms of a doctrine of divine providence that says that all events are determined, or that everything that happens is for the best. . . . Hartshorne means his own doctrine of God to be an explication of the God in which we all do at least implicitly believe. (page 221)

The Philosopher begins his notes on this final section by titling them “Substance and Selfishness”. He singles out two long quotations from page 222. Remember, these are Griffin’s descriptions of what Hartshorne teaches [bolding is all Alan’s]:

The idea that a person is an enduring substance, which would mean that our relations to our own past and future would be absolutely different in kind from our relations to other people, makes it seem metaphysically impossible that we could in principle love our neighbors as ourselves. The substance-idea of identity has in fact promoted a self-interest doctrine of motivation, according to which we cannot really care at all about anyone except ourselves. If we accept this doctrine, our relative selfishness will tend to become as close to absolute selfishness as possible.
The insight that the enduring self is really a temporal society, comprised of a series of events, shows that our identification with our past is already an example of sympathy, and that our concern for our future welfare is already a form of altruism. It also shows that our relations to our own past and future are not different in kind from our relations to other people. This insight shows that we really can, in principle, love other people in the same way as we love ourselves. This implication of panexperientialism is so important to Hartshorne that he says: “On this ground alone I would not give up the event doctrine without the most rigorous proofs of its erroneousness.”

The Philosopher then ends his handout with the following quotation, to which he has added marginal numbering to reinforce the four items that Griffin has singled out for mention:

With regard to belief in God, Hartshorne offers many ways in which conscious belief in the God of his metaphysics can have practical importance for our lives. I will mention four.
[1.] First, by explicitly recognizing that God’s perfect power does not and cannot eliminate, control, or occasionally override the power of the creatures, we can retain faith in the basic goodness of life in the face of its inevitable tragedies.
[2.] Second, explicit belief in God will encourage us to imitate God—both God’s sympathy for all feelings and desires, and God’s creativity, in which the creation of new values is combined with respect for old ones. The vision of God will also lead us to aspire to approximate that unity of love with knowledge and power that God alone embodies.
[3.] Third, theism “implies that love is the supreme good, not pleasure or knowledge or power, and those who think otherwise will be disappointed.”
[4.] Fourth, explicit belief in God provides an answer to the final question of human life: What is its ultimate meaning, what should be our central aim? “Be the aim Nirvana, the Classless Society, the Welfare State, Self-realization,” Hartshorne says, “The query is never silenced, what good is it, from the cosmic and everlasting perspective, that one or the other or all of these aims be attained for a time on this ball of rock?” Belief in God, as the One, as the One in whom we all live and who cherishes all good things everlastingly, provides an infinite aim for life—to contribute to the divine life. And this infinite aim strengthens rather than weakens our commitment to finite aims.

Taking all of this slowly and thoughtfully, chewing it in bits, it seems to me that this really cuts to the chase, providing a sound philosophical and scientific foundation on top of the rock of our faith. At last we have succeeded in scraping off the primitive superstitions and the convoluted, self-destructive ideas that came out of late modernism. Griffin concludes with a final quotation from Hartshorne: “[I]f I can inspire multitudes who will never see me in the flesh, then the incense I send up to God will continue to rise anew for many generations.”


November 21, 2017


When I was a young girl, the local Episcopal church acquired its first curate, fresh from seminary, young and cute, very appealing to us youngsters. One Sunday, he preached a little Sunday school homily on the topic of grace. We all oohed and gahed over him, as usual. Then he lowered the boom: “Ok, what is grace? And don’t tell me it’s a girl’s name!” All of us suddenly went blank.

Well, what is grace? It does indeed make a lovely girl’s name, and there are quite a few Grace Churches, and at least a couple of Grace Cathedrals. The term appears frequently in both the Old and the New Testaments. Theologians will tell you more than you probably want to know about it, with differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant, which isn’t particularly helpful. The only red-letter appearance of it is 2 Co 12:9, where the Apostle Paul is quoting Jesus as saying to him personally when he—Paul—requested for the third time relief from his “thorn in the flesh”, which may have been a physical ailment or a particularly troublesome human opponent; “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And it is indeed the Apostle Paul who made the most use of the term, filling an entire large Concordance column.

Yesterday’s Daily Word’s word was ”Grace”, and the day’s affirmation was, “In grace, I release every sense of limitation.” The little article defines grace as “the power I lovingly convey whenever I recognize and express my Christ presence.” This piqued my curiosity, so I went across the hall into Alan’s library and started rummaging around. If Daily Word had something, Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore probably did, as well. Sure enough, in The Revealing Word, which was first published in 1959 (our copy is from 1981), there is a bit of a Foreword alluding to Fillmore’s Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, published in 1931:

The Revealing Word offers to Truth students metaphysical meanings and uses of words and phrases that frequently appear in the Unity publications, and many that appear in the Bible. Whereas Unity’s Metaphysical Bible Dictionary explains the esoteric meanings of Scriptural proper names, The Revealing Word is devoted mostly to common names. In addition to words that have religious significance, hundreds of words that are in everyday use appear in this book. Thus the reader is given inner meanings that he can apply to his daily living. All things in life are expressed in words. Equipped with the inner meanings of words, a person can control all the issues of his life, from the insignificant to the great. (page 3)

The entry for grace reads:

good will; favor; disposition to show mercy; aid from God in the process of regeneration. “By grace have ye been saved” (Eph. 2:5).
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17); that is, the real saving, redeeming, transforming power came to man through the work that Jesus did in establishing for the race a new and higher consciousness in the earth. We can enter into this consciousness by faith in Him and by means of the inner spirit of the law that He taught and practiced. (pages 88-89)

Ernest Holmes’ New Thought Terms and Their Meanings came up graceless, but I did come across grace in the glossary for Divine Science: Its Principle and Practice, a textbook compiled in 1957 from works by Fannie B. James and Malinda E. Cramer: “GRACE: The gift of the nature of God which is omnipresently available to man.”

If memory serves—and the homily by the curate was a very long time ago—the main thing about grace is that it is unmerited, which means that it is a free gift from God to each and every one of us, not something one earns by accumulating celestial brownie points. No matter how rotten we think we are at any point in time, that grace, that “gift of God’s nature”, is available to us just for the desiring of it, although faith in Jesus the Christ certainly helps. We only have to ask, to be open to it, to turn our attention to God instead of our difficulty (Emmet Fox’s Golden Key).

But grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card; there is still karma. It was once explained to me thus: if I begin to fix a bacon-and-egg breakfast and halfway through the process, decide that I would really rather have pancakes, I still have the bacon and eggs to contend with in some way. I can give them away, throw them out, or even leave them to congeal in the pan indefinitely (yuck!). There is nothing inherently evil about a bacon-and-egg breakfast, but if whatever I had done or started to do were something harmful—You get the idea. With sufficient grace, I can do a better job of planning my day and my diet. The point is for me to take advantage of God’s grace rather than beating myself up for a poor choice of some sort.

Grace be unto you, and peace.


November 28, 2017

Elliptical Billiard Balls?

The Gilbert and Sullivan Players of Tarpon Springs, Florida are about to begin rehearsals for The Mikado, arguably the best-known and best-loved of that timeless collection of hilarious comic operas. It purports to be depicting life in nineteenth-century Japan, but even a cursory look reveals that it is quintessentially British humor, satirizing British targets, with English music. One of the many popular tunes from the show is the aria sung by the Mikado, the Emperor of Japan, “My object all sublime I shall achieve in time—to let the punishment fit the crime”. He then recites a catalog of “evil livers” and “society sinners”, the last of whom is

The billiard sharp whom any one catches/His doom’s extremely hard —
He’s made to dwell/In a dungeon cell/On a spot that always barred.
And there he plays extravagant matches/In fitless finger-stalls
On a cloth untrue, With a twisted cue/and elliptical billiard balls!

The librettist, W. S. Gilbert, has himself been described as “something of a billiard sharp”, so this punishment must have seemed particularly harsh to him.

But I am getting ahead of myself. What besides chorus rehearsals for The Mikado made me think of elliptical billiard balls? Well, my object all sublime is to supply you with a useful, bite-size concept for happier living. Perhaps you are fresh from a joyous family Thanksgiving, or maybe not: you are separated from your loved ones for one reason or another; or perhaps you are fresh from a very unjoyous family Thanksgiving where you wish you had been separated from some or all of them. At any rate, you find yourself in a very unhappy place, in a very unhappy frame of mind. We all do, at one time or another. If you are joyously happy at present, that’s one more thing to be thankful for. But like attracts like, and the human race consciousness is not as light and bright as we might like at present. When one is in a “down” frame of mind, it takes more to lift one out of it in the next moment of now than it does when all is merry and bright. Misery spreads: machines break down for no good reason, little things go wrong, big things go wrong, the weather takes a turn for the worse. It’s a vicious spiral downwards. To borrow from psychologist Martin Seligman: it’s all my fault, it’s everywhere I look, and it’s going to last forever.

At such times, we need more that a colorful magazine spread full of cheery ideas for “the holidays”. We don’t need a complicated textbook on how to be a success at whatever. We need something bone simple, easy to remember, and widely and repeatedly applicable. It should be some tiny step we can take right away to get started, so we would feel silly if we didn’t do it.

The book I am about to quote from didn’t come from Alan’s library; it came from mine: I am the psychologist. Psychology is a science that has a way of snuggling in between philosophy and religion, which were the Philosopher’s two principal fields of expertise. To complete the picture, the Philosopher was a huge Gilbert & Sullivan fan who could rattle off most of the Lord Chancellor’s nightmare (Iolanthe) from memory. Iolanthe was his favorite G&S opera because it dealt so much with law, and he had a law degree in addition to his Ph.D. in philosophy and being an ordained New Thought minister of the Quimby Memorial Church.

So here is one idea from How to Make Winning Your Lifestyle, by David S. Viscott, M.D. (McKay 1972, Dell edition 1973). The whole book is full of winning ideas, if you’re up for them. I read it many years ago, and only one thing really stuck with me, from the first chapter, titled “You Can Make Life Go Your Way” (doesn’t feel likely at the moment), “There’s no such thing as a born loser” (hope that’s right; not so sure), “There is a winning formula” (yeah? So what is it?)

The first time I saw a professional pocket-billiard championship I was struck by how easy each shot seemed to be. Not that the players made the shots look easy. Most of the shots were in fact easy. Anyone with a few hours’ experience could have put perhaps half of the balls away. What was difficult was controlling the cue ball and lining up the next shot. To make each following shot easy was enormously difficult. The good player knows that his future shots depend on his present one. He never acts for the moment, never takes a shot just because it is easy. He knows he must set up the next one. If he did not, each shot would become increasingly difficult. (page 15)

You don’t have to take up billiards, pocket or otherwise. Just get the one point: What one small thing can you do to “set up your next shot”? Do the dishes? Lay out your clothes for the morning? Locate the next file you need to refer to (notice that I am not saying you have to start work on it, just locate the one file). Fill up the gas tank on your way home? Just one little dumb thing. Single-girl advisor Helen Gurley Brown used to refer to some of these humdrum things as “sound-pitiful-when-you tell-about-them”. One small thing might be reading your favorite psalm before you try to go to sleep, or saying “I love you” to a family member. It will be whatever occurs to you to do.

The secret here is that in order for this to happen, you will have had to give at least one nanosecond’s attention to what you really want to have happen next. It’s a start, and a very important one. It’s the beginning of a turnaround, even if it has to be repeated a few times. It can stop the downward spiral. In the process, you are supplying God with a scintilla of daylight which is all he needs to supply you with perfect possibilities that can snowball.

What if the door to that “dungeon cell” with its “twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls” is actually unlocked?

Lagniappe: I came across an additional book of New Thought terms by Ernest Holmes. The one I consulted for the column on grace for last week was published in 1942. A revised edition, edited by Arthur Vergara, was published in 1991 (DeVorss). It does have an entry under grace, stating “See God, grace of”. As promised, we find “Symbolizes the higher nature, which raises the lower into a consciousness of God”. Playing a hunch, I went back to the 1942 original. Sure enough, there it was, but minus the cross-reference. Kudos to the graceful Mr. Vergara!


December 5, 2017


There was a time when Advent was an important part of the Christian church’s liturgical year, being a minor penitential season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. On one of its Sundays, young boys apprenticed to a tradesman got to go home and visit their mothers. The color of the hangings on the altar was purple, as it was for Lent, the major penitential season. Advent was observed with a nice wreath of greenery for the middle of the dining room table, with four purple candles, one for each of the four Sundays. If one had a pink candle handy somewhere, it could be used for the third Sunday in Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent, the Mothering Sundays. Whatever preparations one might be making in private, making or wrapping Christmas presents or preparing Christmas cards, one did nothing much public before Christmas Eve, when one set up and trimmed the Christmas tree, which was big and beautiful and evergreen and fragrant. It stayed up through the twelve days of Christmas until Twelfth Night, when cities and towns gathered the by-then dried out and brown trees, which were then burned in a giant festive bonfire in the town square on Twelfth Night, with the fire department in careful attendance.

Needless to say, times have changed. We begin celebrating Christmas before the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers are used up. We begin to feel a lot of pressure to have everything ready in time, and no matter how early we start and how prepared we are, there always seems to be something we overlooked. As with so many advances attributable to technology, any labor they are saving just makes room for more chores, as we endeavor to pack more activity into each day.

Now, I am not trying to say we should go back to the old calendar or the old customs. I do feel that we should try to get back that feeling of preparation of our hearts and minds for the coming of love into the world (well, it was there all along, but we finally got around to noticing it). In the effort to emphasize the great contribution of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, to the human race, people made up myths and parables surrounding his birth, most of which have proved to be something other than factual. That’s not bad, as long as we remember that they are teaching tales, not exact historical recordings. They can continue to fulfil their original purpose of reminding us of the importance of Christmas to the Christian world. Although Jesus was probably born in the spring (when the shepherds would have been in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night), we celebrate his birth at the darkest time of year, when the days are their shortest, and the pagan people built huge bonfires to encourage the sun not to go out entirely. Our Jewish brethren and sistern sometimes celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights, at the same time Christians are celebrating Christmas, which perhaps elevates Hanukkah to a more exalted status than it would otherwise have, but it does add light to the darkness of winter. Remember that Jesus was an observant Jew, as were most of his disciples.

Whatever one believes about Jesus in terms of who he was, we can agree about his teachings, the greatest of which were that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds, and our neighbors as ourselves. Love certainly can include appropriate behavioral boundaries, models for conduct for our families and others. We are taught to forgive others their trespasses in order to be forgiven our own, but forgiveness does not mean becoming a doormat for the inappropriate behavior of others. If we can concentrate on loving others (and appreciate is often an easier term to understand than love, which in English usually means romantic love rather than agape or philadelphia or storge — funny how one of the largest if not the largest languages in the world runs out right when we need it the most—), it’s interesting how often things calm down more quickly, and peace returns to the scene.

There are tons of meanings and symbols surrounding our Christmas observances, and we are free to use the ones that we find most meaningful. Santa Claus started out as Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Prosperity is a wonderful thing and appropriate for all of us, and giving gifts is one way of expressing our love for others, but nobody said anything about wretched excess! We can have a gracious plenty without overstuffing our guests or ourselves, or overloading our children with so many toys that they can’t keep track of them. Many of us get the mistaken notion that we don’t deserve to prosper, so we work ourselves into a frazzle caring for others and in the process depriving them of a rested, enthusiastic self who is enjoying the festivities along with everyone else. Others may have trouble marshalling the necessary energy and enthusiasm to create pleasure for those we love. There is a happy medium!   We all need to learn to pace ourselves.

And if this is a lean Christmas for you, you can still imagine another Christmas yet to come, with beautiful abundance. Make note of what you miss most and picture the day when you can have it and how that will feel. There is much beauty and joy that is free, and much to be thankful for. Praise and thanksgiving bring us closer to the flow of good of all kinds from our heavenly father. It was Jesus, whose birth we are about to celebrate, who taught us to relate to God as to a loving father. So celebrate your way, just making sure that your way includes a loving consideration of the needs and wants of others.


December 12, 2017


The Philosopher, who had earned a law degree before embarking on his Ph.D. in philosophy, always had a few hundred well-chosen words concerning the subject of law to say on just about any occasion. Sayings such as “All’s love and all’s law” are frequent in New Thought, but that sort of airy generalization tends to annoy any serious student of philosophy. Strong’s concordance lists six columns of entries with the word law, which is enormously important in Judaism. Upon stating the two Great Commandments, Jesus commented, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. (Probably not literally!)

There are times and places when we individually may welcome the rule of law to keep things peaceful and orderly, and other times when we find it annoyingly restricting and very much to be gotten around if at all possible. As someone with a strong inclination to kick over the traces at times, I also welcome relatively gentle guidelines for behavior, guidelines that grease the wheels of social interaction.

But we need to get clear on just what laws are. Alan liked to say, “Laws are descriptions of how things work”. Psychiatrist William Glasser taught us Reality Therapists that there were two kinds of laws: laws of nature and agreed-upon laws. Laws of nature would certainly fit the Philosopher’s description. Agreed-upon laws contribute to an orderly society with such laws as “Thou shalt drive on the right-hand side of the road” and “Thou shalt stop when the light turns red”. Once they are in place, usually voted there by people we have elected to figure out such things for us, they are agreed-upon laws. Violating a law of nature has a built-in consequence, such as going splat on the sidewalk if one jumps off the top of a tall building in violation of the law of gravity. Violating an agreed-upon law has an agreed-upon consequence, such as getting a ticket for speeding. Here Glasser would insert a description of punishment, pointing out that it never works very well, because one tends to revert to the old behavior when the enforcement of the law is withdrawn. If instead of giving you a ticket, the police officer takes out his service revolver and shoots you in the foot, saying “Remember this the next time you are tempted to speed”, that would be punishment. It is better not to interfere with either natural or agreed-upon consequences, especially if one is trying to bring up children, although admittedly one cannot just let them go play in the freeway!

In our first jointly authored book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (Rev. Ed. 2003), Alan takes up the discussion of law in his famous chapter 6: “Something New in New Thought”. Three major sections on law begin on page 147:

New Thought places great emphasis on the lawfulness of the universe. New Thoughters, like most people, tend to believe that the laws of nature are changeless. However, Whitehead tells us that natural laws are habits of interaction of the innumerably many experiences that make up the universe. More exactly, we can say that laws are descriptions or formulations of the habits in question. He notes that there is no evidence that the laws of nature are changeless. . . .
None of this is to say that the habits that we call laws are unreliable; it is just that they probably are not truly permanent. . . . God is still utterly dependable, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, and substance notions be replaced by process thought. (pages 147-148)

People do have a tendency to reify laws. “Reification (from the Latin res, thing, and facere, to make) is a philosophical term that means to understand a mental entity as if it were a thing. We might call it ‘thingification’. Whitehead associated it with ‘the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,’ mistaking the abstract for the concrete.” Alan called this a “pervasive error” and added, “In truth, considering laws as descriptions, no law ever did anything to or for anyone or anything. This is not to deny the powerfulness of the states of affairs described, summarized by laws; those described habits, like our own habits, can be extremely powerful before they are changed.”

The Philosopher then continues with “The Golden Calf of Active Law”, disputing the prevalent notion in some parts of New Thought that the Law side of God (“all’s Love and all’s Law”) carries out commands like some sort of genie. For one thing, this violates the law of parsimony! He explains:

The notion of active, responsive Law is something like the golden calf that the Children of Israel worshiped, to the chagrin of Moses. Regardless of whether the word law is used, there is no adequate reason to believe that there is any such side of God. In Process New Thought, supremely wise loving guidance is seen as all that is needed to explain God’s activity in the world. (page 150)

He continues, in “Why God Cannot Be Law”:

Why can’t there be a responsive God-as-Law ...? God does respond in the sense that he gives to later experiences initial aims adjusted to the situations produced by the choices of their predecessors. But this response does not shape substance, since there is no enduring substance to shape. Everything is new, moment by moment, however much it may be like what preceded it. (pages 150-151)

Finally, “Here are the main considerations against the existence of Law as an impersonal, automatically responsive mental substance:” [Each of these is followed by a discussion.]

1. A common-sense view of reality is inadequate.

2. A thingified Law is inconsistent with the known nature of the physical world.

3. God is supremely good.

4. Each experience is isolated.

5. The supposed law lacks freedom in having to respond mechanically, precisely, “mathematically” to what is fed into it.

6. God can’t give a completed product.

7. Finite entities aren’t able to come up with perfect plans.

8. Only personal Love-Wisdom is all sufficient, not the implied mechanistic materialism of the impersonal Ultimate.

9. Impartiality, which is much of what is said to characterize law, is an ethical quality, meaningful only in relation to persons, not to nonpersonal entities.

The section ends with a comment inserted by the editor (moi): “As Emmet Fox used to say, the Lord is my shepherd, not my bellhop.”

I hope that many of you will acquire the book and read the chapter in its entirety.


December 19, 2017

Let’s All Prepare for Mirth

Even though not much was made over Christmas until the last couple of centuries, that still has been plenty long enough for the Christian portion of the human race to come up with a few jillion themes that reappear each year. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make it challenging for anyone with a blank sheet of paper to be filled for this season.

A bunch of clichés inevitably pop up, because some things are the same every year: the days get shorter, the weather gets worse, the merchants are trying to beef up their bottom line for the year, and year’s end fiscal matters present headaches for everybody from Congress on down. So we can either play Ain’t It Awful, or look for reasons to be optimistic and model them for the rest of the world. I suggest the latter; research shows that optimists do better than pessimists on just about any measure you care to name.

By now everyone should be aware that the perfect Christmas, the one we think we remember or wish we could remember, doesn’t exist. If we can just let go of the expectation that everything is going to be perfect or should be perfect, and quietly work toward perfecting whatever is before us, we will be a lot less stressed and probably have a lot better time than we otherwise could. We can almost certainly find some way of improving any situation we may find ourselves in, and in the process, improve things for other human beings in our orbit. Doing something nice for others is almost guaranteed to make us feel better in mind, body, and spirit.

If I have learned anything in my relatively long life, it is that things are almost never as bad as you think they are, and that any efforts you can scrape together to mitigate them are generally helpful. All things—including all troubles—come to pass, and they will pass a lot sooner if you don’t hug them to yourself and moan over them. New Thought author Emmet Fox has a lovely little piece titled “Bear Hugs Kettle”, in which a bear comes upon a hunter’s campfire with a delicious-smelling stewpot over it, and seizes the kettle, clutching it to his chest, where it of course begins to burn him. The tighter he hugs it, the worse it burns, but isn’t that exactly what we all so often do? The trick—if you want to call it that—is to fill your mind with positive images of what you want and what it would feel like to have it, remote though the possibility may seem at times.

Meanwhile, Christmas Day is coming, and there are almost certain to be a few things to lift our spirits, no matter where we are. There are delightful local programs, many of them free; or you can work as a volunteer for a local organization and brighten things for others who may be in even worse shape than you are at the moment. Fan the flames to encourage the pleasant times. Many churches have children’s pageants that are guaranteed to crack you up, intentionally or not! Start wherever you are: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do....” There is sure to be some place where your talents fit right in, be they high or low. The nice part is that it’s not someone else’s talents or successes; it’s your own.

So the issue isn’t by how much you missed having the perfect Christmas; it’s what you managed to come up with to improve the one you have. Some of the best improvements may include arranging for yourself to get more sleep or more relaxation or more beauty in your life. Best-selling business author Stephen Covey’s analogy of the golden eggs and the goose that lays them is excellent: if you neglect the goose, you find yourself surrounded by dying geese and no more golden eggs. In your life, you’re the goose; take care of yourself for the sake of all the others who are depending on the golden eggs of whatever sort you lay. Then of course you have to learn to manage those golden eggs and not fritter them away, but that’s a story for another day when the eggs have started to pile up.

And if this happens to be a year when you are luxuriating in the wonderful feelings that come with having achieved your long-sought heart’s desire, whether it be the perfect mate, the perfect business, or high-level wellness, by all means, luxuriate! Soak it up, bathe in it, and remember it when things get a little lean again, which they eventually do. Meanwhile, open your heart and let the rest of us just feel the light and life of your answered prayers and use you as a model of what it could feel like for us.

Have a blessed Christmas, one that is merry and bright, one in which you see your troubles at an end and a new and glorious day is brightening your life.


December 26, 2017

Happy Feast of Stephen

I am writing this on Christmas Day, sunny and cooler than it has been here. For company, I am streaming Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Messiah sung in German (huh?) from WCRB (Classical Radio Boston). At the moment, I am mellow and peaceful, having accomplished most of what I set out to do to prepare for the occasion. Last week, I attended a children’s recital which my voice teacher was holding together from the piano, always fun and joyful. Then I attended a Christmas special presentation by Maria Zouves and Sherrill Milnes and their son, fun and festive. Saturday night found me at the Tarpon Springs Safford House museum assisting a children’s chorus with harp accompanist, all in Victorian attire except me as a visitor, singing Christmas carols nonstop for three hours. When we got to “Good King Wenceslas”, nobody besides me knew the words, so I had to solo and ham it up. It takes place on the Feast of Stephen (the first Christian martyr, celebrated on December 26th). The king recruits the assistance of his page to take flesh, wine, and pine logs thither to the dwelling of a poor man whom they had seen gathering winter fuel. They set out through the snow, deep and crisp and even, but the winds are fierce, and the page starts to bog down. The king advises him, “Mark my footsteps, my good page ... Thou wilt find the winter’s rage/ Freeze thy blood less coldly.” Naturally, I had to dramatize this for our audience: “In his master’s steps he trod/ Where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed.” It was a bit difficult to go back and forth from singing bass as the king to singing a high-soprano page, but I was equal to the challenge!

This Christmas season thus far has turned out better than I had anticipated. We have lots of pretty lights right here in the neighborhood, I have had these pleasant Christmas specials to go to, and there is a ton of timeless classical Christmas music to stream or to play from the Philosopher’s huge cd collection. Accurate historically or not, the music and poetry written to celebrate the birth of Jesus is some of the finest written anywhere anytime. Yesterday the fog burned off, and it was sunny and warm enough to go for a walk, wearing shorts and encountering neighbors and their dogs, with everyone wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. It has been such a joy to hear and to say “Merry Christmas” everywhere this year. People seem generally optimistic that the tide has turned and things really are getting better.

One thing that seems important has been to give myself permission to break all my rules and let myself vege out for a few days to destress. It recharges one’s batteries (mitochondria!) to just sit and chat with a neighbor over a cup of tea, leave the bed unmade, and eat normally forbidden Christmas goodies. “In returning and rest shall we be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength” (Isa. 30:15). This is what allows God to get through to us with all sorts of wisdom and love; this is what lets us realize that we, too, have the mind of Christ. Sometimes it is startling to realize that even if our lives are not ideal, we can still be a blessing to others in all sorts of little ways, including wishing them a Merry Christmas.

Many Christmases ago, a dear family friend gave Alan and me a basket of goodies that included a beautifully illuminated little book by Henry Van Dyke, A Prayer for Christmas Morning. Van Dyke is best known for “The Story of the Other Wise Man”. A fourth wise man sets out to join the other three to journey to where the promised child lies, but he keeps getting delayed by unexpected circumstances that require his help and the treasure he had intended to bring for the Christ Child. He finally arrives in Jerusalem just as Jesus is led by to be crucified, and comes to understand that he has been about the Father’s business the whole time after all. Here is the Christmas prayer in its entirety:

The day of Joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will. Help us rightly to remember the birth of JESUS, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven. For Jesus sake, Amen.

May we all carry this peace, love, and joy with wisdom on into a very prosperous new year.