1. Our Story Begins
Science and Insanity[The following chapters are not given here.]
Where Covey Got the Seven Habits
Putting It Together
The Philosophy to be Tested
What Practice Involves
How to Get to Carnegie Hall
But How Do I Do It?
An Adult Partnership
Getting In the Habit
All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray
Practice as the Path
3. The Presence of God
Which Breed of God Should I Pick?
The Arrival of the Cavalry, German Style
God: Up Close and Personal
God's Mind and God's Body
Changing the Pattern of the Past
Hell, and Other Graceless States
Open at the Top
Study vs. Treatment
Portrait— er, Movie of God, New Every Moment
What About God's Body?
4. Practical Purposes
5. The Black Hole
Did Brother Lawrence Have Bad Hair Days?
Sin, Original and Unoriginal, Which It Mostly Is
What To Do When the Roof Falls In
Feelings, Who-o-oa Feelings
Toxicity and Cults
Grownup or Adult?
This book is in the tradition of a more-than-century-old something called New Thought. At the turn of the century, William James referred to it as "mind-cure" and "the religion of healthy-mindedness." Much of the theory of New Thought has remained largely unchanged decade after decade, crumbling or revealing gaps bit by bit in comparison with newer, more adequate thought unavailable to the founders of the movement. This book is part of a new wave in New Thought, reconsidering and to a considerable extent replacing its unsound underpinnings--providing a new conceptual foundation for a beautiful house in which many have lived happily and healthily. That house is big enough for you to move in, or, if you prefer, just to gain some inspiration and help from visiting for a while.
This book is for people who think that they ought to be getting more out of life and aren't sure of how to go about doing itþor who think that they do know how but are finding that it isn't working well.
This book is for people who are doing a great job of working with God, yet would like to have a better understanding of what they are doing.
This book is for people who believe in God, and for those who don't but are willing to think about it.
This book is about using God in your life. Lest "using God" seem irreligious or sneaky, we hasten to add that we believe that it is impossible not to use God. This is because God is so intimately involved with us that apart from God, we could not be at all.
This book is for people who are willing to consider that our lives are responses to offers made to us by God. We are concerned with using God better by more consistently saying yes to these divine offers.
This book does not say that God is all there is (as many of our friends believe). It is a book for people who are open to considering that God is real, here, everywhere, and indispensable without being everything. We see pantheism (the belief that God is all) as an early aberration within New Thought, departing from the essential insights of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who is generally recognized as the father of New Thought. It may have seemed reasonable at one time, but its usefulness is ended as one comes to recognize the panentheistic (all is in God) position of a process perspective.
God has one job and we have another, and not much gets done constructively in our lives if we don't (knowingly or unknowingly) work with God, rather than against God's loving, guiding wisdom. God never fails to do God's part in our lives, but we often fail to do ours. All creation is co-creation between God and someone or something else; that is a major theme of the book.
This is not a New Age book, at least in any narrow, conventional meaning of that term. It's a book written in a new age and supporting a particular vision for the new age, but it is not New Age in the sense associated with an amorphous movement revolving around pantheism, crystals, channeling, astrology, and almost anything else that used to seem strange but now is popular in many quarters.
As the title indicates, this is a book about the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. We'll take up one by one the ideas contained in the title, and we'll show how they work together to bring us health, wealth, and happiness.
If you're interested, read on.
Once upon a time, in seventeenth-century France, to be exact, there lived a monk who was so happy, so good-humored, and so obviously close to God that he became known far beyond the walls of his monastery, and his spiritual advice was sought by great and small alike. The monk was known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, and the secret of his happy spirituality he freely shared with all. He called it "the practice of the Presence of God."
Brother Lawrence did not start out as what we would call a mystic, a person who experiences God directly, intuitively. After a checkered career in the military, during which he was captured by the enemy on one occasion and wounded on another, he took a position as a footman to a great lord. However, as he described himself, he was "a clumsy lummox who broke everything," and so, haunted by memories of the horrors of war and seemingly unfit for anything else, he decided to "give myself entirely to God in reparation for my sins, and to renounce everything for His love." He became a Carmelite friar, and for the first ten years he was as miserable as before, assigned to menial tasks in the kitchen. Although he meditated during his prayer time on death, judgment, hell, paradise, and his sins; the rest of the time, even during his work, he devoted himself to "the presence of God whom I felt was always near me, often in the deepest recesses of my heart, a practice which so heightened my concept of God that only faith was capable of satisfying me about this concept." Gradually this practice spread even to his prayer time, to his "great delight and great consolation." "I suddenly found myself changed," he wrote, "and my soul, which up till then was always disturbed, experienced a profound interior peace as if it had found its center and a place of peace." His translator explains,
For Lawrence, the ultimate goal of every soul is union with God. Though he knew the perfect union can take place only after death, he believed we can achieve a far greater degree of unity with God in this life than most people think is possible. The way to accomplish this is through practicing the presence of God.
Two things are required: to abandon oneself completely to God, completely trusting in God's goodness and mercy; and simultaneously, carrying on a continual conversation with God, enabling us to invoke God's presence with us all the time. Brother Lawrence adds, "All these acts of adoration should be made by faith." He explains that at first it takes persistent effort to form the habit of continually talking with God, but it eventually becomes easier. He cautions against getting bogged down in particular practices and neglecting love. Despite what was obviously a poor self-image, he eventually came to see himself as utterly loved and aided by God in everything he did all day long, with any mistakes he made forgiven. He eventually developed proficiency in his chores, with God's help.
Others were able to see past Brother Lawrence's gruff exterior to the love of God shining through him, and he advises, "Always see God and His glory in everything we do, say, and undertake," so he evidently saw God in others, as well. He claimed that he felt more united to God during ordinary activities than during religious activities, which left him with what his translator refers to as "a profound spiritual dryness." He sums things up with characteristic simplicity:
We cannot avoid the dangers and perils with which life abounds without the actual and unceasing help of God; let us ask His help continually. How can we ask for His help unless we are with Him? How can we be with Him except by thinking of Him often? How can we think of Him often except by forming a holy habit of doing so? . . . I do not know of an easier or more appropriate method.
The scene now shifts to the end of the twentieth century, to a much more complex world. Despite all its advances in science and medicine, people are just as soul-sick as Brother Lawrence was before he hit on his practice. Our understanding of our minds and bodies has evolved, however, as has our understanding of spirituality. We now see that our spirituality includes our minds, bodies, and emotions, and we have a better grasp of the relationship between mind and body and of the way the mind works. With the same dedication that Brother Lawrence showed in his monastery, we can take his practice out into the world and apply it to our lives with an impact he could never have dreamed of. We can use the practice of the presence of God not only for peace of mind in a contemplative state, but for practical purposes as well. We can use it to heal bodies, minds, and pocketbooks, to prosper ourselves and others in all possible ways. We can learn how to work with God as our wise and loving partner in all that we do, just as Brother Lawrence did, but with a worldview far more advanced than his. Standing on his shoulders, we can see farther.
In the history of ideas, we denizens of planet Earth have reached what for lack of a better name is known as the postmodern era. At the moment, it consists of a peculiar sort of crossroads: the possibility of despairing, godless, unprincipled nihilism in which everything is relative and there is no star to steer by; or the possibility of newly evolved spirituality of a higher order in which everything is related, a spirituality that embraces and uplifts the great advances of science. We have come to this lady-or-tiger scenario as a result of modern-era efforts to break free from medieval superstition and limited thinking. These efforts may have succeeded so well that they threaten to destroy the very thing they were trying to rescue: the human psyche. Here's why:
Mystics and other wise people describe three ways of gathering knowledge, three eyes, as the mystics put it. The first is the eye of flesh, empirical knowing. This is the eye of science, the eye that deals with the material world of the physical senses. The second eye is the eye of reason, the mental eye. This is the eye of philosophy, the eye of the intellect, which uses critical thinking and analysis dispassionate from the fray. The third eye is the eye of contemplation, which deals with mystical knowing. The eye of reason is supposed to mediate between the other two eyes in order to keep all three eyes in balance.
Problems in knowing arise when one eye usurps the roles of the other two. One famous example was the medieval scholars' attempt to determine the number of teeth in a horse's mouth by deduction (the eye of mind) instead of by going out to the stable and counting them (the eye of flesh). Nearly every major religion has suffered from that type of error: being expert in contemplation does not automatically make one expert in the realms of the other two eyes. As Ken Wilber puts it in his book, Eye to Eye, "anytime one eye tries to see for another eye, blurred vision results." He continues,
Buddhism and Christianity and other genuine religions contained, at their summit, ultimate insights into ultimate reality, but these transverbal insights were invariably all mixed up with rational truths and empirical facts. Humanity had not, as it were, yet learned to differentiate and separate the eyes of flesh, reason, and contemplation. . . . the philosophers came in and destroyed the rational side of religion, and science came in and destroyed the empirical side. However, theology . . . was so heavily dependent upon its rationalism and its empirical "facts" (the sun circles the earth as the Bible says), that when these two eyes were taken away by philosophy and science, Western spirituality all but went blind. It did not fall back on its eye of contemplationþbut merely fell apart and spent its time in futile argument with the philosophers and scientists. From that point on, spirituality in the West was dismantled, and only philosophy and science seriously remained.
Within a century, however, philosophy as a rational systemþa system based on the eye of mindþwas in its own turn decimated, and decimated by the new scientific empiricism. At that point, human knowledge was reduced to only the eye of flesh.
In addition to the problems of destructive postmodernism and the closing of two of our three eyes, we face the problem of toxic faith. Brother Lawrence somehow managed to triumph over this problem with even less understanding available to him than is available to us. Too many religions still teach children that they are rotten sinners, no good, doomed to everlasting hell and damnation unless they do what their leaders tell them to do; and even then, one cannot be sure of "salvation." The damage that this does to self-esteem lasts far into adulthood, and is sometimes never healed. Psychology now teaches us about the self-fulfilling prophecy: that if we tell people they are no good, they will live up to their reputation!
One problem that Brother Lawrence did not have to face was the separation of church and state. In the United States today, the original intent to ensure freedom of religion has largely been replaced by governmentally enforced freedom from religion. Public schools have been frightened out of teaching ethical standards and facts about religion, so an entire generation or more of children has grown up without knowledge of the Ten Commandments or other moral codes based on universal principles that forbid stealing, lying, or harming people and property. Absence of religious influence has led to absence of kindness, politeness, and service to others. Emphasis on having a pleasing personality so one can "get ahead" has eclipsed emphasis on an underlying foundation of good character, with such qualities as integrity, courage, and perseverance.
Business consultant Stephen Covey has provided us with a simple method for dealing with the loss of the character ethic: put it back. In a series of books beginning with the best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he emphasizes the importance of leading principle-centered lives. Principles, he maintains, are guidelines for successful living that are to be found in all the major religions and in every culture throughout history. We need to center our lives on such principles, and live by them. To center on anything else: work, family, spouse, church, possessions, or even self, is to risk losing the very thing centered on. Only these time-tested principles, external to ourselves, are adequate to build a life around, to serve as a North Star to steer by. Covey believes that these principles come from the ultimate source, which most of us refer to as God.
Covey developed his ingenious model of the Seven Habits and the principles on which they rest from his study of two hundred years of American success literature. (A similar study was undertaken at approximately the same time by journalist Richard Huber.) From the last third of the nineteenth century to the present, that literature springs from or is heavily influenced by New Thought, a philosophico-religious movement originating in New England with a self-educated clockmaker named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who believed he had rediscovered the lost healing methods of Jesus. What he had discovered was the power of the God-aligned mind to heal and prosper. Other New Thought founders soon introduced themes from Eastern religions, and New Thought continues to serve as a link between East and West.
Practical spirituality is the awareness of God at work in our everyday lives. New Thought involves a definite set of practices that are built on, center on, and revolve around our concept of God. It begins with changing our thought and using our willpower to sustain the change and follow through with action. It won't happen without 1) faith in a God and a universe that support and justify this, 2) a clear picture of what we want, and 3) practical skills for follow-through. Mind-power alone is not readily sustained; if the changed consciousness is not God-centered, it will fall apart in the low times that we all experience. And faith in a God that is other than unconditionally loving or in a universe of lack and limitation isn't going to work. The great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead found that in developing a model of what the universe must be like in order to be at all, he could find no explanation for the novelty in the world without the presence of God. We would be stuck in the same old ruts of failure and poverty and illness, were it not for the loving God at work in the world. And why would anyone bother to adhere to a system of values during tough times without some assurance that God is there in the midst of things, loving and luring us on to greater good, suffering as we suffer, rejoicing as we rejoice? It would be all too tempting to succumb to expediency, or just to give up in despair. As Episcopal priest and New Thoughter Leo Booth likes to put it, "Show me what kind of person you are and I'll show you what God you believe in."
New Thought teaches that we are spiritual beings having a human experience in a good and abundant universe, that we are all inescapably involved with a loving God, and that by changing one's thinking one can change any condition in one's life. It is positive, optimistic, and upbeat. It is simple, but not always easy, for it demands the development of strong character. It is a way of life, which must include one's philosophy and one's system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions, which combination is the best definition of religion. But you shouldn't merely swallow someone else's answers to the great philosophical questions without thinking them through for yourself, so New Thought is also pragmatic, which is philosopherese for "go check it out yourself and see whether it works for you."
Medical experts now state that more than ninety percent of all illnesses are mental in origin, and most of the other ills that beset the human race are equally mental in their basis, for the universe is mental in nature, more like a great thought than a great machine, as the great scientist Sir James Jeans observed.
Recent research in medicine and psychology has shown that positive thoughts can have a positive effect on body chemistry and that optimists do better than pessimists on just about any measure you care to name. New Thought is systematically applied optimism. It is the rigorous mental discipline of keeping one's thoughts off of what one does not want and on what one does want, as long as what one wants is consistent with the natural and moral laws of the universe. It is largely based on the teachings of Jesus, and hence, God-centered. As New Thoughter Marianne Williamson writes,
I had heard it said that God was love, but it had never kicked in for me exactly what that meant. . . . He is the love within us. Whether we "follow Him," i.e., think with love, is entirely up to us. When we choose to love, or to allow our minds to be one with God, then life is wonderful. When we turn away from love, the pain sets in. So when we think with God, then life is peaceful. When we think without Him, life is painful. And that's the mental choice we make, every moment of every day."
Earl Nightingale, the late great radio personality, once made a record that sold over a million copies, quite a feat at the time. Its title was "The Strangest Secret," and it changed lives. The secret is, "We become what we think about all day long," and what is strange about it is that it is a secret. The New Thought movement is dedicated to teaching people how to govern what they think about, how to achieve their own health, wealth, and happiness in a way that helps everybody else in the process. This involves cocreation with the source of all the newness in the world, commonly known as God.
When our first jointly written book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, appeared, many New Thoughters pounced on it with cries of glee. They welcomed it as an opportunity to fill in gaps in their knowledge and explore new ideas that built on ideas with which they were already familiar.
However, people unfamiliar with New Thought tended to react differently. Some cast suspicious sideways glances at the book on display, making comments such as "What's New Thought?" or "I was just getting used to Old Thought!" If it was new, why hadn't they read about it in The New York Times or seen it on Good Morning America, since it's American? And spirituality, isn't that something like religion, which we all know has nothing to do with thinking; heck, most churches would prefer that we didn't think too much. Doesn't sound very practical. Besides, the rent is due; no time for reading books unless they pertain to that rotten job or shaping up those no-good kids or getting along better with the spouse or "sig." And did somebody say that the book was about theology or philosophy or something? God, not that!
All right, we agree that as the name of a spiritual movement, New Thought leaves a lot to be desired. So did its predecessors: Mind Cure, Mental Science, and The Boston Craze. So do its descendants, Positive Thinking and Possibility Thinking. Even brand names such as Unity or Religious Science don't really tell the whole story. So, here goes again: We're talking about the universal longing for health, wealth, and happiness. And we're saying--the entire New Thought movement is saying--that the way to acquire health, wealth, and happiness is through the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes.
Sooner or later, everyone notices that the world is not precisely as he or she would like it to be. People react to this observation in myriad ways, one of the most popular being screaming, which is not popular with other people in the vicinity, so screamers branch out into other more socially acceptable behaviors. The most useful of these, though not, alas! the most frequently chosen, is to become philosophical.
Philosophy, as Alan describes it, is an armchair activity. One sits aloof from the fray and ponders such questions as What kind of world is this? What is worth having? What should I really want? and How can I get what I really want in this kind of world? Having used the thinking-and-logic half of one's brain to come up with answers to these questions, one then decides how one ought to behave, based on those answers. One's success in getting what one wants is determined by how well one follows through on one's decisions. This is a function of one's character, about which we will have a lot more to say later on.
The fly in the ointment is that all too often the fledgling philosopher fails to use his/her brain power, and substitutes someone else's answers. And just like copying answers off someone else's paper in a math exam, someone else's answers may be wrong. You can't cheat on your meaning-of-life exam, or you won't get satisfactory results.
One characteristic of Americans--at least, the ones you run into in the United States--is that they tend to pick and choose what they like, cafeteria style, when presented with a system of beliefs. This is getting off to a good start, and it's the main reason that New Thought originated in America rather than somewhere else. However, many, if not most, Americans fail to follow through. They don't make sure that their selections are compatible with one another, and the absence of compatibility can lead to metaphysical indigestion. Also, many Americans don't develop sufficient strength of character to follow through on the behaviors that need to flow from their beliefs if they are to get what they want.
New Thought does not require allegiance to any particular set of beliefs, though it has some commonalities found throughout its various branches. It is very much a do-it-yourself religion, and as a result, many of its practitioners deny that they are New Thoughters, because they have put together their own blend of beliefs. This is particularly true of the major brands of New Thought: Divine Science, Unity, and Religious Science, each of which has its own characteristic slant; for example, Unity School of Christianity refers to what it teaches as "Practical Christianity." Their commonalities are vastly more numerous and important than their differences. Still, one of the nice things about New Thought is that it accommodates individual preferences.
Although New Thought does incorporate some nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought of great importance, it is often said that there is nothing new in New Thought, because it springs from ancient roots. However, what's most practically or significantly new in New Thought is your thought. New Thought is quintessentially American in that it breaks away from religious tyranny, the tyranny of toxic religious beliefs. New Thought teachings are mostly based on the Bible, although it accepts teachings from other sources as well. New Thought teaches that Jesus more than any other human being understood and made use of his own indwelling divinity, which he referred to as "the Father . . . in me" (John 10:38, 14:10, 11). New Thoughters do not worship Jesus because it wouldn't make sense and because Jesus did not ask to be worshipped. Rather, he taught his followers to love one another and to keep his commandments, which mainly dealt with the law of mind action (As in mind, so in manifestation; as in heaven, so on earth). We have dealt at greater length with believing Jesus as opposed to believing in Jesus in our first book. This is much of what sets New Thought apart from traditional Christianity. But New Thought does not demand adherence to a particular creed, and it is perfectly possible to accept general New Thought principles and still be a loyal parishioner at your local church or synagogue. If, on the other hand, you are unchurched and would like to be churched, check a World Wide Web search engine for listing "New Thought movement," or the New Thought movement home page (websyte.com/alan), for links to lists of New Thought churches, both brand-name and independent.
America was settled by people who sought to worship God in the way they saw fit, and New Thought carries this even farther by encouraging each person to develop an individual tailor-made religion. Certainly, if we're smart, we'll check our own ideas and understandings against those of other people who seem to have their acts together. The Methodists do a good job of this with their quadrilateral consisting of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as mutually corrective. Put them all together, they spell balance, which increases the likelihood that they are a close approximation of truth. New Thought has also been influenced by ancient Eastern wisdom from Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Its most significant non-ancient literary root is probably the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was in turn influenced by Eastern thought.
New Thought looks to Jesus as Way-Shower (to borrow Emerson's term), whatever an individual's beliefs about him may be. Jesus had the mind of Christ and made the most of it; we seek to emulate him, for we, too, have "the mind of Christ," as St. Paul told us (1 Cor. 2:16), the spark of the divine. Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6, "Ye are gods." He told his disciples that they would be able to do greater works than those they saw him do (John 14:12), and the Bible records that the disciples did indeed work miracles. As later generations of Christians slid off into superstitious thinking and abdicated their own responsibility in the face of what they believed to be their depraved and sinful nature, they disempowered themselves. They failed to use their miracle-working ability, and so, miracles became rare.
Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love, in a passage frequently misattributed to Nelson Mandela, states:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (p. 165)
The rise of science, seeking to combat superstition, and the dominance of materialism contributed to the absence of miracles. But the universe is still God's body, still abundant, still awaiting our recognition of our miracle-working powers, for a miracle is not a suspension of natural law, but rather, can be defined as the operation of a law that we do not yet fully understand. As Whitehead puts it, God is "the chief exemplification" of "all metaphysical principles" rather than the great exception. God, being utterly reliable, cannot violate natural laws, which in one way or another have arisen through God's guidance, and there's a lot that we don't yet understand, so there's plenty of room for miracles in an orderly, lawful universe. New Thought is not about the supernatural; instead, it holds a view of God as both immanent in nature and transcending it. The laws of mind operate just as dependably as the law of gravity. Quimby and the other New Thought founders talked of science, using the term differently than we do today to refer to standardized methods used to gather information for the prediction and control of natural events. To them, science referred directly or indirectly to God, in opposition to superstition or the supernatural, which they were doing their best to avoid.
Quimby's healing methods involved his mind's working on the patient's mind, disputing the erroneous beliefs of the patient, for Quimby believed that "the explanation is the cure." Just as their beliefs, their faith in illness, had made them sick, their faith, as Jesus said (Matt. 9:21) had made them whole again. Today, New Thought still seeks to heal by the power of mindþhuman mind, in conjunction with divine mindþby prayer, but also makes use of both orthodox and alternative medicine.
It didn't take long for people who had been healed by the power of mind to realize that the same power could heal their pocketbooks and spirits as well. Traditional Christianity often paints Jesus as poor; a careful reading of the New Testament reveals a very different picture. The stories tell how Jesus as an infant received rich gifts from the Magi. As an adult, he wore a rare and expensive seamless garment, dined with the wealthy, and paid his taxes with a coin found in the mouth of a fish. When he died, his body was buried in a rich man's tomb. Clearly, he saw himself as the rich child of a loving heavenly father, like the father in his parable of the Prodigal Son, and he told us in the words of the father in the parable, "all that I have is thine" (Luke 15:31).
Jesus also taught abundance, and New Thought recognizes that God is fully present and available everywhere, so as the rich children of a loving, heavenly parent, all of us can expect to prosper. Jesus explained that we must ask for what we want with the expectancy that we are receiving it, and that we must also give in order to receive, so that the good is kept in circulation. He told us, "Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together and running over" (Luke 6:38).
Happiness is a state of enhanced satisfaction, enhanced by intensifying our attention on whatever we find satisfactory. Research has shown this to be a left-hemisphere function. In other words, happiness depends upon our thinking. Once again, the power of the mind can bring us whatever we desire. It can help us to have better relationships and to find greater pleasure in our life's work. Later in this book we will examine ways to go about this.
Jesus taught us to regard God as our loving, heavenly father. Any loving father is tickled pink when his children do well, because it reflects well on him. We can therefore be sure that God wants us all to be healthy, wealthy, and happy. Wise wouldn't hurt, either.
New Thought history particularly extends from P. P. Quimby through Emma Curtis Hopkins and Malinda E. Cramer to the present. New Thoughters (who are frequently confused with New Agers, partly because many belong to both groups) tend to reject most occultism (psychic stuff) while embracing mysticism (direct experience of God).
You are a New Thoughter if you:
Believe in a good God who is here and now available to us not only for inspiration and delightful direct experience but for thoroughly practical help.
Believe that this divine goodness includes impartial, intelligent love extended toward all creatures, and utter reliability in responding to everyone.
Believe that the universe is essentially mental or spiritual, however much we emphasize the part of it called material. Whereas some, such as Christian Scientists, begin with the premise that God is all, and conclude that therefore matter is unreal, some New Thoughters begin with an assumed allness of God and conclude that therefore matter is spiritual. Everything is essentially mental-spiritual (experiential), and changing your thought and keeping it changed for the better can transform your life.
Believe that God is all-inclusive (we and everything else are in God), but this inclusiveness does not make unreal the reality of individual selfhood and its freedom.
Believe that there is no ultimately real and negative evil power in opposition to the good God. Evil is negative, a lack, like darkness, which is merely absence of light.
Believe (and endeavor to put the belief to work in your life) that by the operation of your mind you can accept the goodness offered by God that requires your assent in order for God's purposes to become manifest in the human world.
Believe that formal religion matters little in that no one religion or book contains truth to the exclusion of all others. Many belong to a church or center, whether New Thought or traditional, for education, inspiration, association, and working together to accomplish various forms of good: personal, local, and worldwide.
Believe that Scripture may contain symbolic levels of meaning that are deeper than is obvious.
Believe that people are essentially good, and that they have a spark of the divine. However, they don't always make good choices.
Not all New Thoughters subscribe to all the beliefs given here, and some New Thoughters add other beliefs. Some New Thoughters emphasize some beliefs and practices more than others. For some, New Thought is just a conviction that "as you believe, so you receive," with little theoretical buttressing of this, except for faith that there is a good, inspiring, accepting, reliable God who somehow makes everything work. For others, New Thought is a more developed theological outlook, including details about how the creative process proceeds.
In any event, New Thought can be characterized as the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. You can practice the presence of God and be a mystic or a pietist, but not use your sense of the presence of God to bring about changes in your workaday world, and therefore not be a New Thoughter. You can pray to God to suspend some natural law and not be a New Thoughter, for New Thoughters believe that however miraculous a happening may seem, it reflects lawful order that we may not yet fully understand. What happens in your life depends on what you accept. You can believe, in a secular way, in the power of mind to accomplish much in life without being a New Thoughter, for New Thought insists on an immanent divine dimension to reality.
The essence of New Thought is belief in and use of the power of God-inspired mind over all circumstances. Some say that it is God responding to us in creating; others, that it is we responding to God in a direct process of cocreation.
New Thought's ancient roots mean that its principles have stood the test of time, which is a good start. But the human race is not through learning what is true and real, not by a long shot. So New Thought is "open at the top," as Religious Science founder Ernest Holmes put it, subject to constant revision in the face of new discoveries in science and new advances in philosophy, which is to say, sharper thinking. New Thought regularly rethinks and revises old ideas and adds new ones. Truth may turn up in all sorts of amazing places, for Truth, in much of New Thought terminology, is another name for God, who also turns up in all sorts of amazing places. More accurately, all sorts of amazing places turn up in God.
New Thought is largely based on the Bible and is Christian in the sense of following the teachings of Jesus. It also welcomes truth from other wisdom literature, but reminds you to be sure to put it to the test. What test? Jesus had a simple one: "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16). In other words, is following these principles getting you what you want? What you really want? (Did you ever get what you thought you wanted and find that it didn't meet your needs, so you weren't happy?) Are you deeply happy, healthy, and reasonably prosperous, or even unreasonably prosperous?
As a philosophy, New Thought falls into the metaphysical category of idealism. That means that it holds that the universe is made up of ideas, or thoughts, or spirit, or experiences. (The opposite of idealism is materialism, which holds that the universe is made up of matter, physical stuff, or lifeless energy.) Idealism would say that the physical is just a particular form of mental activity. The reason that this distinction is important is that if it's true that the world is made up of thoughts (at least for us rational animals), then it's possible for you to change the world with your thoughts, at least somewhat.
We can hear you protesting about all the times that your thoughts did not produce the desired results, or you got results that you had never thought about at all. Stay tuned. There are a couple of necessary pieces to be added to the New Thought model in addition to thoughts as the building blocks of the universe: what is the universe, and what or who is running it?
The basic concept underlying New Thought is that there is an infinite Good, an omnipresent, loving, intelligent Reality. We are all expressions of that One, but we are still individuals with a vital role to play in the process of cocreation, and all creation is cocreation. Now you can talk about Presence and Power, or Infinite Intelligence, or the Ultimate Absolute, or Utter Ineffability, or the Thing Itself, but it's easier to use the handy little three-letter word G-O-D. Here, too, you have to think things through for yourself, in case the three-letter word has negative overtones for you that you can't shake.
Philosophers have rumbled back and forth at each other for centuries with arguments for and against the existence of God and about the nature of God, whatever that means, but nobody is ever convinced by the arguments alone. People nearly always reach a conclusion based on their feelings and their personal experiences, not on their intellect. This may annoy some philosophers no end, but welcome to the real world.
New Thought holds that God, the ultimate power, is a power for good. There is no Satan, no evil personified. New Thought also holds that the universe is God's body. If God is good and God is everywhere available, then the universe must have good everywhere available in it. (We'll talk about evil at length in chapter 5. Yes, of course there is evil, but it isn't personified or even reified, "thingified." It is no-thing.)
Each of us human beings has free will, and we are therefore responsible for our choices. New Thought accepts the traditional Judeo-Christian teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God. But unlike traditional teaching, New Thought holds that we are therefore inherently good, and we have never lost our ability to choose the good. Although we are free to choose, we do not always choose wisely because of the influence of the past, and our choices are carrying us somewhere that may or may not be where we really want to go. Everyone else is also free to choose, and all those choosers are bound to come into conflict often. These intra- and inter-personal conflicts cause a great deal of difficulty for us. That means we still have a lot to learn, and God leads us through those learnings with infinite love and patience.
If everyone is to have free will and thereby be free to choose, then there has to be a neutral environment to choose in, an environment that does not favor one over another. God "sendeth the rain on the just and the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). Such an environment must operate lawfully, which means reliably, predictably; and so the universe has physical laws and mental laws, which are descriptions of how it operates. If we tailor our behavior to conform to these natural principles or laws, we can use them to get whatever we desire. This is how all the great advances of civilization have come about.
So go ahead and put this philosophy to the test. Test whether you in cooperation with God can use the power of your thoughts to change your world.
Some people have tried to leave belief in God out of the picture entirely and practice a distorted version of New Thought that is really an attempt to work one's will on the world without reference to any standard outside of oneself. This is a form of magic, and generally does not work well for long. Research has shown that human beings have a deep-seated need to believe in a power greater than themselves, and that those with such a belief heal faster and better from both mental and physical problems. Further, when the going gets rough, even if one subscribes to "humanistic" ethical principles, if one believes that there is no God to turn to for help, what incentive is there to adhere to a arbitrary set of guidelines?
Many people ridicule New Thought teachings, believing that they are starry-eyed nonsense, Pollyanna, too good to be true. They are not familiar with the extensive research in physics, biology, and psychology that supports the power of the mind to influence the body and even to influence events and circumstances. Still others, stuck in outmoded religious beliefs, expect life to be miserable and painful because it is "God's will," and that those who prosper now will pay later in one way or another. These people are unaware of the abundance of the universe and God that is there for all to claim. Life is not a zero-sum game in which for you to win, another must lose, because the greatest wealth of all is the abundance of ideas. New Thought is definitely not too good to be true; its positive results can be obtained by anyone willing to exert the necessary mental self-discipline in conjunction with sufficient belief in a good God, leading, luring, and loving a friendly, abundant universe. In an abundant universe, all of us are entitled to all the abundance that we can develop the consciousness to attract.
New Thought in a nutshell is simple, but not at all easy. It is simple in that it consists of keeping your thoughts firmly fixed on what you want and off of what you don't want. However, this is the last thing that one is inclined to do when one is in difficulty of any sort, and so it is anything but easy. Many people read about the power of the mind, try to apply it in a casual, half-hearted way, and when they fail to achieve a desired result, say, "See, it doesn't work!" It works. They didn't. Or perhaps they pray to God as if God were a cosmic slot machine or celestial genie waiting to grant their prayers, forgetting that heaven helps those who help themselves. Or maybe they left God out of the picture altogether and tried to rely on their own puny efforts, not open to God's love, wisdom, and guidance, not working in harmony with universal principles, trying, like King Canute in the old story, to stop the tide from coming in. There he sat on his golden throne at the water's edge, issuing his royal command, and his feet all the while were getting wetter and wetter. (Some say that he anticipated this, and was using it to make his point.)
If you want to be healthy, wealthy, and happy, and you are willing to do what is necessary, you can be. Your health, wealth and happiness may look quite different from the health, wealth and happiness of the next person, because your desires are different. This is why nobody else can design a life for you: health, wealth, and happiness are definitely a do-it-yourself proposition. You have to visualize what you desire and then arrange your thoughts and energies accordingly, yet in harmony with universal principles, so that you prosper others as well as yourself. If you sincerely and wholeheartedly commit to this approach, and fine-tune it as necessary, you will become unstoppable. Seeming miracles happen to people who make up their minds, who change their thoughts and keep them changed.
The purpose of this book is to describe the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. We will examine each of the concepts bundled into this phrase, "the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes, and show how they work together to bring us health, wealth, and happiness.
First, we will examine the details of practice: what it means, and what it consists of. Next, we will take a look at what God and the universe must be like in order to be at all, i.e., look at the presence of God from the viewpoint of the philosopher and the mystic, with perhaps a bit of the theologian thrown in. As New Thought heads into the twenty-first century, it needs to update its metaphysics to accommodate developments in science, particularly quantum physics; and developments in philosophy. At the same time, it must be careful to preserve the integrity of the original core ideas of the New Thought founders, and to remain in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. We present such an updated view, which we call Process New Thought.
Then, we will discuss specific practical daily-life purposes to achieve with our practice of the presence of God. These include health, wealth, happiness, relationships, and illumination or guidance.
Finally, we will provide some suggestions for what to do when things go wrong, which they invariably do from time to time. This will include a trip into the Black Hole of negativity, examining such concepts as sin, suffering, evil, fear, and just plain rotten personalities. But we shall not remain in the Black Hole; we include ways to get out of it quickly and peacefully. In fact, New Thought is really all about what you say to yourself when things go wrong, for it is then that you most need to be an optimist. Anybody can be a fair-weather sailor, but it takes strong character and self-discipline to weather the storms of life.
You are welcome to join us on our journey, where, as St. Paul told us, we can be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
By mastering the complexities of today's world, we become capable of living longer and healthier lives, surrounded by material comforts while caring for the environment and relating harmoniously with each other in ways that ensure that everybody wins. Brother Lawrence could scarcely have dreamed of what has become possible for us today. And so we remain God-centered, adding to the practice of Brother Lawrence the God-aligned mental self-discipline of Quimby and the New Thought denominational founders who succeeded him. Our techniques incorporate the approach developed by Stephen Covey, with bits of specific wisdom gleaned from many others along the way. To the simple joy of a monk we add the power of contemporary psychology, and get a balanced holism taking into account body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
End of Chapter 1.
Drs. Deb Whitehouse and Alan Anderson are a husband-and-wife team of educators, scholars who have studied New Thought history and practiced its teachings for many years. Both of them are currently members of the Executive Board of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA), and Deb is editor of the INTA magazine, New Thought. Both have spoken and written extensively about New Thought, collaborating on an earlier book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (Crossroad, 1995).
Deb holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Northern Illinois University in addition to degrees in music from Northwestern University. Alan's doctorate from Boston University is in philosophy; his doctoral dissertation was titled "Horatio W. Dresser and the Philosophy of New Thought," later published as Healing Hypotheses. He was part of a team of editors assisting Ervin Seale in publishing the complete works of the father of New Thought, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: The Complete Writings (DeVorss). He also holds degrees in law, education, and political science. Alan is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. Deb tutors at Curry, and the two of them team-teach a course for Continuing Education at Curry titled "Self Leadership Through Mind Management." Deb developed the course, which adds philosophical background in ethics and metaphysics to the work of Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey's work is based largely on American success literature, which is in turn based largely on New Thought principles.
Alan was a pioneer in giving New Thought a presence on the World Wide Web, establishing the New Thought Movement Home Page in 1995. You can visit it at http://websyte.com/alan, where there are links to other New Thought materials and organizations.
Deb and Alan share a passion for Gilbert and Sullivan, for walks along the ocean, and for skewering sacred cows.
Anderson-Whitehouse site, with information on how to buy this book in either electronic or paperback form.
New Thought Movement Home Page
Created June 29, 1999
by Alan Anderson
Latest update Dec. 16, 2000