THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW THOUGHT
A RATIONAL AND POSITIVE SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY
BY HENRY WOOD
[Mr. Wood was for twenty years one of the leading authors and promoters of the New Thought movement, and was actively identified with the Metaphysical Club of Boston, founded 1895. He is best known for such books as Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography, and New Thought Simplified. The following is from an address at the first annual convention of the International Metaphysical League, held in Boston, Oct. 24-26, 1899.]
The movement which in a broad way is represented by this convention will present itself in a variety of aspects to different observers. Even could we clearly define it in its essence, its validity would yet depend upon the personal point of view. Whether called the New Thought, the Metaphysical Movement, Practical Idealism, or by some other name, it will be variously rated by the majority as intangible speculation or illogical assumption, while to the lesser number who have recognized its truth, scope, and usefulness, its value can hardly be exaggerated.
In the twenty minutes at my disposal, I shall try to interpret concisely its motive and purpose. I wish to emphasize its rationality and spirituality. Doubtless there are those present who come as lookers-on, as well as those who are already identified with the movement. Let me first offer a few suggestions to those who may term themselves outsiders, in an attempt to present simply the rationality of the new movement, We call it new, while in a deep sense no truth is new. But eternal and immutable principles are constantly receiving fresh application and adaptation. A thousand years ago, electricity was waiting to do its part in the operation of trolley-cars; but a new movement was required, simply of human cooperation. Innumerable beneficent laws of undreamed potency--physical, psychical, and spiritual--are still waiting, we might almost say impatiently, for recognition. Could we touch them with the wand of human cooperation they would spring from latency into wonderful concrete activity. We may almost imagine Truth, personified, upon bended knee, beseeching us to receive her welcome blessing.
How we have unwittingly limited the realm of orderly law! Conventional science, while of late theoretically admitting its universality, still has eyes for little beyond the physical realm. A few investigators, however, are engaged in tracing the lines of truth as they run through the realm of psychology. But these studies are confined mainly to the speculative tests and phenomena of institutional laboratories, with little or no attempt to apply them to practical human welfare. A few educators have attempted something more useful, by turning the light of psychology upon their own professional work. But any earnest recognition and helpful application of psychical and spiritual law in thought-education, the systematic use of ideals, and other helpful exercises in the sphere of mind, are yet limited to the unconventional minority.
The materialism of the age has illustration in the popular degradation of the noble term "metaphysical," which simply means above or beyond the physical. When with a single thrust one wishes to extinguish the argument of an opponent, he usually retorts, "mere metaphysical speculation."
The moment we can convince the scientific world that the continuity of cause and effect is unbroken through the three zones of man's nature, and that the higher is normally supreme, thus forming a scientific basis for our principles, we shall graduate from any suspicion of crankiness and be tolerated as sane and regular. Then--not long hence--people will be ready to avow the higher philosophy, with the significant comment--"Yes; we always thought so!"
It must be shown that faith, instead of being a blind, expectant emotion, has a perfectly logical foundation; that thought, in its purpose, control, and effects, is amenable to intelligible law; and that a mixture of certain ingredients in the mental compound is as sure of a legitimate result as is that of material substances in the chemist's labora- tory. It must be made evident that all disappointment in the practical demonstration of our principles is not in the least due to the uncertainty of their trend, but to local and personal limitations in the hospitality of their reception.
The scientific exactitude of the New Thought, to a large class of minds, has been obscured by the disproportionate prominence that has been given to its so-called religious side. The term religion has been so long used to define some particular system, outside of applied moral and spiritual law, that it is not easy to rescue and broaden it.
The real touchstone of truth for any philosophy or system is: Does it fit the constitution, needs, and capacity of man? Does it nourish, harmonize, and develop his threefold nature? Any guidance that can most effectively teach him the laws of his own being; refine and spiritualize his inner life and forces; aid his higher nature to maintain orderly rule over that which should be subordinate; and unfold and bring into manifestation the latent divinity within him--must be beneficent and normal.
The reasonable position of the New Thought has been largely overlooked. It is evolutionary in its spirit, quiet in its methods, and to a great degree operative without observation. It depends more upon simple statements of truth than upon external organization. Its silent inner life is penetrating and permeating existing churches, though it organizes few of its own. It is no surface affair, for "still waters run deep." These are some of the reasons why it is not more talked about.
Perhaps, to the average man, the therapeutic phase of the New Thought has awakened the most interest. When understood, the intelligent application of the laws and forces of mind for the eradication of mental and physical ills contains no element of magic, supernaturalism, or strangeness. Modern materialism has carelessly disregarded the logic of the innumerable historic straws that point to the fact that the body is the composite outcome and expression of past mental beliefs and activities. All the so-called miracles of healing with which history is crowded are due to the conscious or unconscious use of a law that can be defined and followed. It savors of an ignorant, superstitious, or blindly skeptical bias, either to deny their validity on the one hand, or on the other to attribute them to a supernatural interruption of the moral order. True, it may be a baseless superstition that starts the mental forces into operation, or even a fetish that awakens the activity of a powerful molding faith. The momentum of a stone that rolls down hill is the same whether it was started by accident or design. . . .
How shall faith be invoked? The ignorant and superstitious may awaken it, though it is always uncertain, by resorting to some shrine, holy relic, priest, or in former time to some king who was supposed to embody a divine prerogative, to be touched; but how shall one who is intelligent, and believes the world is governed by orderly law, command the desired power? Has the Creator put a premium upon ignorance and superstition? Are calm reason and knowledge a positive disadvantage to the exercise of a healing faith? Such a conclusion is unthinkable. We then come to the necessity of an intelligent and scientifre basis for the saving power. The useful superstition, even though it be strong today, may be dispelled by tomorrow. Only truth can have any guarantee of permanent availability. The definition of faith must be broadened. If "thy faith" is to make thee whole, it must lay hold upon eternal principles, and to lay hold of them it must know how to find them. It must be too wise to expect a capricious intervention, on the divine part, in an economy already perfect. No ! God's work is fully complete, and human conformity is all that is lacking. How, then, if we are above the plane of superstition, can we logically cooperate with the overcoming force?
The power is already latent in every human soul. Through systematic thought-concentration it may be unfolded into dominant activity in the consciousness. By law, we become or grow like our ruling ideal. We are to regulate the physiological processes by a mental renewing that will be back of them; this, not by any sudden or strained effort, but by cultivated growth. Instead of vainly dwelling on the surface of effects, we must take hold of underlying causation. We are souls having bodies, not bodies having souls.
Shall the man be in bondage to the handful of dust he has molded and erected into temporary shape, or shall he affirm lawful superiority and rule? Shall the abounding and universal divine Life be consciously received and cooperated with, or shall it be barred out through materialism and a false sense of separation? If the body be subordinate and expressive, the claims of mind or man must be advanced to the desired ideal as potentially present, here and now. Then, through the intricate processes already noted, the physical subordinate will correspond and index the same. Shall the potter rule the clay, or the clay the potter?
Made as we are in the image of God, and equipped by well-ordered law to mold and outpicture the higher prerogatives of the soul, how have we lingered in a worse than Egyptian bondage to sense and matter! However, matter, so called, is good, and only misplacement makes it otherwise. But the law of gravitation is no more normal and constant than are the corresponding laws of mind and spirit, which are written in our constitution and awaiting our cooperation.
Man, wittingly or unwittingly, creates his own conditions. Health or disease, happiness or misery, life or death, and heaven or hell--all primarily growths in the human consciousness--are respectively brought into active expression through well-ascertained law. When the great Adamic, or evolutionary, step was taken from animality and instinct into the realm of reason and recognition of the moral order, man became a virtual creator. His mind is his kingdom, and he peoples it with subjects. Through their subjective selection and molding, the objective world also falls into line and receives corresponding color, form, and quality.
Let me, in closing, offer one or two suggestions, more especially to those already in the New Thought; for we all want one another's point of view. What will best promote the spread of the Truth? It seems to me, singleness of aim. We need to be free from diffusive beguilements and entangling alliances. Avoid side issues and by-paths. Though rational, the New Thought is distinctively spiritual. It does not deal directly with surface phenomena, but with their inner springs of causation. I believe the danger that most threatens the New Thought today is its more or less intimate amalgamation with other reforms, whether real or theoretical, upon lower planes. If we scatter our energies in the attempted repression of mere effects, the true momentum of the movement will be lessened or lost. Without uttering a word pro or con concerning political socialism, or theoretical land systems, tax systems, money systems, labor systems, and other political questions, I believe the New Thought should be kept above and distinct. A true moral socialism will result from a free spiritual individualism. We have before us an object-lesson in the spread of one system, which we believe contains a great basic truth, even though associated with certain dogmatic extremes. Whence its great momentum? The secret is, it has never lost itself in the endless mazes of materialism. As individuals, and in other relations, we may take such positions as we please; but do not let us overload, to the sinking point, a spiritual philosophy whose message humanity is waiting to hear. The external face of society, like the human countenance, is but the exact expression of the inner forces. Better the ruddy glow upon the cheeks when it comes from within, than a coating of cosmetics from without.
The New Thaught believes in the potency of God and Law, and that an aggressive pessimism, emphasizing the evil of human conditions, is unscientific and harmful, even when well meant. The seat of man's inharmony and unhappiness lies deeper. Even were external conditions perfect, a divine restlessness would possess him until he found God to be within and without--All in all.