THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW THOUGHT
The term "New Thought" was first used as the name of a little periodical issued in Melrose, Mass., in 1894, and later by representatives of the rational wing of the mental- healing movement in general in place of the term formerly employed, "Mental Science." The theory was essentially a "new" thought for most of its devotees, a new attitude towards life, hence the term was in a sense appropriate. It is not an easy term to define, nowadays, in view of the many variations of therapeutic belief. But let us endeavor to discover the underlying principles which have most widely appealed to its devotees, making as little as possible of the variations.
The New Thought is a theory and method of mental life with special reference to healing, and the fostering of attitudes, modes of conduct and beliefs which make for health and general welfare. The theory in brief is that man leads an essentially mental life, influenced, shaped and controlled by anticipa- tions, hopes and suggestions. If one is downhearted, depressed and inactive, one meets the circumstances of life in a negative manner, weakening before them, inviting failure. If one is hopeful, courageous, energetic, one may meet essentially the same circumstances in such a way as to turn them into success. Thus the event which might otherwise be a curse, a blight, a source of misery and pain, is turned into one of joy and blessing. Life is largely what we make of it, what we bring to and call out of it. Hence the importance of cultivating optimistic, constructive and productive beliefs. Beliefs lead to attitudes and these determine conduct.
The method originated by P. P. Quimby, the pioneer of the movement, consists in applying through the favorable conditions of receptivity and mental treatment the principles and affirmations which are thus found to pertain to life as a whole. If one is ill, suffering from depression, excitement, and prolonged pain, the resource is to become quiet, reflective, expectant of good results, then proceed to put before this responsive consciousness the ideas and images which most positively suggest the desired condition. I must see myself in thought strong, well, and free; hopeful, encouraged, successful in all my undertakings; and I must instill this new consciousness into my mind in such a manner, by quietly yet persistently affirming it, as to produce an impression, a change which will lead to subconscious and other benefits. The proof of the method is its use. Experience must reveal what explanation cannot. Thus the New Thought is essentially empirical.
The next step consists in applying this method to the healing of others. Here is where the practitioner of the New Thought excels, in comparison with the methods employed by those who use hypnotism or merely audible suggestion. Hypnotism may involve too great surrender to another's will, with the unpleasant possibility that the operator cannot immediately awaken his subject out of the hypnosis; while audible suggestion is not likely to be so effective as silent treatment. The silence and receptivity of the patient, while seated expectantly by the mental therapeutist, offer favorable conditions for impressing on the patient's subconsciousness the desired mental imagery or affirmation. The mental process is supplemented and strengthened by the spiritual phase of the silent treatment, namely, the realization of the presence of God. The therapeutist's "realization" is the occasion or means, while the immanent divine power is the efficiency which secures the end. The realization must be uplifting, forceful, and persistent, in order to make due impression on the patient's mind. The idea which takes root subconsciously brings results according to its power to evoke similar ideas and associations.
The application of these principles to life in general grows naturally out of the success attained in applying them to health. Hence everyone is advised to begin by learning the values of auto-suggestion and silent treatment. An affirmation like Henry Wood's statement, "Pain is friendly," suggests an entire attitude toward life. If the power behind pain is beneficent, let me cease all rebellion, resistance and fear; let me transfer my attention from the process, the sensation or pain, to the power behind, adopting imagery which suggests perfect health and freedom. Then let me think this principle to its completion as a practical theory of life, let me cut away all obstacles, inhibit all doubts, and check all fears. If I give myself resolutely to the spiritual ideal, I thereby change the center of equilibrium and any number of favorable consequences may follow. The new consciousness fully wrought out becomes a philosophy.
Thus the New Thought fosters individual development, and leads each man to believe he can go to the supreme sources of life. He may make of his theory and method a spiritual gospel by turning afresh to the New Testament to find it a guide to the efficient religious life. The Christ then becomes an inner or Universal principle, accessible to every soul.
The important point for one who would test the New Thought as a workable theory and method is this: Begin where you are, with any problem or need, taking it under advisement, seeking causes, the forces at work, and the ends to be attained. Reflect that you are dealing with actual life, with changing and promising conditions. Dwell on what you are, your present difficulty and needs only long enough to see what forces have brought you where you stand, then about face and begin to create the ideal or desirable conditions, first in thought and imagination, then in responsiveness and conduct. Cease to be anxious and fearful and learn to be calm. Cease to rebel and to blame others. Take the matter home to yourself and begin by reforming your attitude and habitual expectations. Create your ideal future and move steadily toward it, make use of every favoring thought, moment of silence, and quiet hour of reflection.*
*The above is reprinted from Practical Ideals, Boston. What follows is from an address at the annual convention of the Metaphysical League, 1899.
The essence of the New Thought, as I understand it, is the oneness of life; the great truth, namely, that all things work together toward a high ideal in the kingdom of the Spirit. Otherwise stated, it is the truth that God lives with us, in every moment of existence, in every experience, every sorrow and every struggle.
This is an old, old truth. The wisest men of all ages have believed in the oneness of life. The world's spiritual leaders have taught that we live and move and have our being in the Father. Yet the New Thought aims to advance beyond all other schools in the endeavor to realize this great truth. Others have argued for it as the basis of philosophic thought, or it has been taught as a part of the creed of the Church. With many it is merely a theory; they do not take this truth home, so that it may become the foundation of daily life, applying even to the healing of disease.
The first demand of the New Thought is that its followers shall dwell upon this truth of truths until they shall speak of it not merely as a theory but as a life. Only those who live in the Spirit--who know its peace, its beauty, and its love---can do the highest work. For there are many kinds of healing, from merely personal influence, affirmation, and thought-transfer, to spiritual healing, where there is no argument, no attempt to influence or to control, but an application of power--the practice of the presence of God. Consequently, this higher work is still largely an ideal; for it means entire devotion to the work Of the Father. It is service. It is outgoing love--fellowship. It is poise--self-mastery carried to that level of attainment where the mere presence is sufficient not alone to heal, but to inspire, to encourage, to uplift.
The search for this high ideal is guided by the conviction that the soul is of supreme worth in life. It is for this that we suffer and strive. It is for this that we are born in ignorance. We are burdened so that by per- sonally attaining freedom we may become strong, perfect, beautiful.
He who gives of the spirit, he who heals by his presence, must then first free his own soul, must understand life, and become broadly self-masterful, before he can help others to attain freedom. He must live much in the silence, in receptivity, seeking not so much to realize the Father's presence through his own active thought as to let the Father reveal himself. In those calm moments of companionship, when all the world of sensation is put aside, the soul discovers that here and now we are environed by another kingdom, a greater power, a supernal presence. One feels instantly at home in that presence, as though one had wandered far in search of an abiding-place and found it not. One is fed with the food that satisfies. The soul expands and grows in the light of the Spirit. It knows no obstacles. It looks abroad upon life with a sense of dominion over all. It is free. It is joyful, with that gladdest, fullest joy which is too deep for words, too still and peaceful to betray itself excitedly.
But how does this spiritual experience apply to the ills of the flesh? By thus developing an inner center of peace, trust, freedom, happiness. When the soul is calm it can still the nerves, free the mind from fear, and apply the power of the spirit upon the disordered physical organism. All growth, all change proceeds in this way. First, the seed or cell, then its development and externalization All growth is from a center outward. In like manner all changes that are caused by thought take their rise in an idea. Higher yet, all spiritual growth results from the quickening of the spirit from within--at a center, at a point.
The clue to the understanding of life, from the point of view of its spiritual oneness, is therefore evolution. It is because all things are perfected by a process of gradual transformation and attainment, everywhere revealing the same laws, because the sorrows and struggles and dark places are needed, that we can declare that all is a spiritual Whole.
From the physical point of view, life is fragmentary. The physical organism is likely to be attacked by external disease. It is subject to accidents. One is more or less the child of fortune, of climate, of intellectual and social environment. Pain is called evil. Disease is regarded as an enemy. There is no certainty that all is for the best. But from the point of view of spiritual insight into the unity of things, it is not some fortuitous external farce that governs our hardships and diseases. The individual, the inner man, the soul, is the decisive factor. Our circumstances are what the inner man attracts. Suffering is a sign that the remedial powers of Nature are seeking to restore or to regain harmony. All things are found to be parts of one system because the spirit perceives their meaning from within, as a whole. And in general we learn why our environment is what it is--our life is a mixture of the pleasurable and the painful because all these experiences are needed as factors in our spiritual evolution.
As a consequence, if one is wise, if one understands one's self, all that comes into one's life may be turned to evolutionary account. Not that every circumstance is wholly the best in itself, but that it may be turned to account by the attitude in which it is received. Suffering, for example, is a very great burden in itself, but may be met by an attitude that quickly lessens or overcomes it. Misfortune is hard to bear; also many difficulties of the home, business, and social life. But if wisely met they prove to be opportunities for the development of character--occasions in which one may grow strong by maintaining poise, and spiritual by manifesting love.
The visible world is secondary. Its function is manifestation. It is not a cause in itself. It is incapable of originating diseases, hostile conditions, and circumstances to torment man. All that comes from it, comes because it is needed in the spiritual evolution of things.
In order to attain the right attitude, the New Thought disciple therefore seeks power in the silent inner world, where evolution begins. He declares that if the heart is right, if we first adjust ourselves, all shall be right. The thought realm, the realm of creative soul power, is the kingdom of heaven from the attainment of which all that is needed shall follow. It is the center of all peace, all poise, all power. For, to him who stands there, there is nothing to fear. He is the commander. He is the creative agent. He is the free man, for whom all things are cared for by the Father.
In this same silent realm also arise those conditions that cause our misery and our disease. They grow from a tiny seed. They begin in fear, distrust, despair, morbid self-consciousness, ill-will, undue consciousness of sensation, and the rest. From the first wrong-turning a wrong evolution results. Thus the physical world takes its clue from the mental. Physical evolution follows spiritual involution. The physical evolution or manifestation is real. It is surely existent. The New Thought makes no attempt to ignore it. But since the physical evolution is the outcome of the mental or spiritual involution, it must be controlled or modified by the spirit from within. Thus the same law that teaches the evolution of disease and misery shows how by instituting the right evolution all may be altered and harmony restored.
This again points to the central idea of the oneness of life. In all things there is but one law. That law is good. It is the foundation principle of the universe. But, through ignorance, man temporarily suffers and causes suffering because he knows not the universality of the law--because he looks outside of his own inner world for the cause.
Another phase of the New Thought doctrine of the oneness of life is the theory that all souls are united in the mental world. We are not detached, separated individuals affecting one another only through physical interchange. We are bound together by ties of thought--by thought atmospheres and emotions. It is not necessary physically to speak or act in order to make ourselves felt in the world. Every thought is like a seed blown here and there by the wind, or carried from place to place. It is capable of evolving, if it fall in good soil. It tends to gravitate to its own environment. It is likely to affect people for good or for ill. It is transmitted out and around us with a rapidity surpassing that of waves of sound or light, Consequently, our thoughts must be guarded--that we send out only the good, the hopeful, and true.
But by the same law of thought interchange that sometimes works for ill we may accomplish unmeasured good. The thought-organism is here, ready to serve us; it is for us to use that organism in the consciousness of what our spiritual fellowship means--the spiritual unity of life. Thus the process is essentially soul cooperation. It is, first, recognition on the part of the helper or healer of his own oneness with the Spirit of life; then the realization of the patient's oneness with the same Source; and, finally, active cooperation with the Spirit, by whose power health and peace are to be restored. There is surely no true unity but this. There is no other wholly common ground for fellowship. In the Spirit all men are one; it is in the outer life, in their arguments, that they are inharmonious. They all came out from the one Source. In reality they are always at one there. Consciously or unconsciously, they are living the same life. This deep undercurrent must then be brought more and more to the surface, that the same beautiful law may regulate our physical and social life. It is this thought that I would emphasize above all others as to one to bear away with us--the thought of the deep-lying Spirit of life, welling up in us all, uniting us all, bearing us ceaselessly forward to perfection--to the freedom of the soul.
In all times of need or trouble, when disturbing experiences come, when the way is not clear, pause for a time, break connection with the troublesome thought, and retire to the haven of the Spirit--the home of rest and peace. Send your thoughts out into the great universe until you feel the One Life eternally and illimitably extended there. Repose in it. Confide your problems to it. Become receptive and listen. Expand to the proportions of its high ideal for you. Rejoice in its presence, in the privileges you possess in seeking it. Then again ask and listen.
When its moving comes, follow wherever it leads and trust the outcome. Or if no prompting comes, at least bear away with you the consciousness of its presence, of your oneness with it, of the joy and peace that came when you enlarged your thought to become receptive. This is the essence of it all; this is the spirit. To apprehend this essence and to feel this spirit is to possess a priceless gift of power and helpfulness. This is the spirit of the New Thought, the glad tidings it declares to the world--the great revelation of spiritual unity and beneficent evolution by the heeding of which not only disease shall cease, but war and unhappiness. It is another form of the gospel of the Christ. It is a new interpretation of the evangel of love.
HORATIO W. DRESSER