Tuesday, January 31, 2006

As A Man Thinketh

One of the observations I have made about life is that it is filled with confirmations that there is more to life than what I can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. There are times in our lives when coincidental occurrences, uncanny experiences, and ironic circumstances make it overwhelmingly obvious that there is something at work behind the scenes of what is observable that is interacting with the very real world that we live in. Whether you call it a glitch in the matrix, synchronicity, or angelic intervention, it’s difficult to deny that we all experience things that makes us feel like there is another dimension to life that we cannot measure. Since I am a Christian, I label it the “spiritual dimension”, but even if organized religion turns you off, most people can recognize that there is something unseen at work in the world. It must be difficult for a hardcore atheist to explain away all those feelings of the supernatural when they experience things that are difficult to explain in the natural.

I had one of those occurrences recently, and while it may not sound that supernatural to you, I assure you that the internal significance of this small happening has confirmed to me how real the spiritual world is.

This past holiday season brought with it a major challenge to my peace and well-being. To sum it up and be purposefully vague, one of the relationships in my life that I depend on most heavily for comfort and security was threatened by a clash in values. In hindsight, this conflict had been brewing for some time, but we were able to suppress our differences for the sake of a highly valued friendship for a long time. I think it was inevitable though that our outlooks would eventually cause us to collide, and it was no small collision. I think it had finally come down to a point where in order for us to both be honest with ourselves and one another, one or both of us had to say something that was unacceptable to the other. Anyway, this falling out had left me quite dismayed at the arrival of 2006, so I came moping into the New Year, but fortunately I had a conversation with a good friend here in New England who helped me to right myself spiritually and realize that no earthly relationship is so important that one should sacrifice their values for it. I gained a new perspective on what had transpired over the holidays, and wrote a difficult letter to this individual that I thought would heal the divide that had formed between us. But the letter was not received anything like I thought it would be for I had grossly underestimated the size of the chasm that had formed between us, and all the letter did was provide the torchlight to see how far apart we actually were. So in the days that followed the revelation of how much distance this relationship had to overcome, I began to doubt myself again. I began to think that something was possibly wrong with my values.

Well that’s where this coincidental gesture by a classmate woke up all my spiritual sensibilities with a brief message that was spiritually timely. A friend of mine from school who I have not known that long gave me this little book. What’s so ironic is that this young woman does not know me that well and had no idea that I was having any kind of personal challenge. (That’s not entirely true…she knew I was “struggling” with a bout of shingles. Maybe she was trying to make me feel better..) The point is that this relatively random act of kindness helped to ease all of the discord that was present in my mind regarding my injured relationship. The book spoke about the very values that seem to be a source of friction in that relationship. It could not have been more soothing or come at a better time.

The book she gave me is a very short (70-page) statement written over 100 years ago by a British writer named James Allen. This little collection of essays called As a Man Thinketh is basically a brief but profound piece on the power of thought, and although the title is an allusion to a scripture from the book of Proverbs, there is no biblical or Christian reference elsewhere in the book. Not to say that the book is anti-Christian; it is in fact consistent with Christian philosophy, but it does not rely on the specifics of the bible to ground it’s foundation. The only religious figure mentioned in the book (albeit briefly) is Buddha. Drawing from both Western and Eastern influences, Allen describes the spiritual laws regarding the power of the mind to effect circumstance. While Allen uses the term “spiritual laws”, one who is turned off by that terminology can easily substitute the phrase with “psychological principles” without altering the message of the book one iota. The fundamental message of the book (in my feeble attempt to encapsulate it) is that man is endowed with the God-like abilitie to think and create. He is self-aware, and can affect his circumstances through the action of his thoughts. Now Allen does not suppose that this is a matter of whim or that success (however you define it) can be achieved by merely wishing it so, but he points out that much of a man’s circumstances are predicated on how he interacts with the world, and much of how he interacts with the world is predicated on his character, and much of his character is predicated on how he thinks. While this may sound dull to some and obvious to others, Allen eloquently outlines these principles in a way that makes one realize the tremendous potential that thoughts have to either elevate or condemn an individual…and most importantly, that it is in every person’s means to control their thoughts. This is where some fatalists may disagree…they may believe that they are ultimately powerless and that circumstance cannot be influenced accept by those who have enjoyed good circumstances. But if one believes Allen’s spiritual truths, then one recognizes that it is the fatalistic thinking of the fatalist that is determining his circumstances. Ironically, one who believes that he has no power to affect his thoughts and thus his circumstances is indeed correct, because he will not take the creative step of choosing his thoughts, and his circumstances will remain beyond his influence.

So you may be saying…”So what chad…some girl gave you a century old coffee table book on what is essentially pop-psychology, and it made you feel better about a disagreement you had with someone you care about recently…What’s so supernatural about that?” While I will concede that on the surface, it sounds like I experienced a small coincidence augmented by a creative imagination looking for spirituality in the mundane. And I will even admit that the philosophy in the book is hardly novel…Hell, not too long ago, I read Man’s Search For Meaning by author, psychoanalyst, and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, and he pretty much said the same thing as Allen about the power of the mind. I probably could have read Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking as well as a litany of Christian books on the topic, and would have gotten a similar message. But the peace of mind that came with reading those pages, and the timeliness of the gesture from someone who had no idea what my state of mind was, and the precise expression of the thoughts and values that seem to represent the impediment to my relationship with the person who had caused me all of this doubt in the first place were too much for me to deny that something special had taken place. Even now, I fail to find the words to express how it felt to read those pages I guess that’s what makes every spiritual experience so personal. It’s so supernatural…so super-sensory, if you will, that it’s beyond your ability to describe with natural language, but the experience…the feeling…is real and while not physically tangible, it is unambiguously spiritually palpable.

Anyway, I wanted to suggest this book as something to glance at one day while you are sipping coffee at Barnes and Nobles, but more importantly I wanted to testify to my spiritual experience. Perhaps someone who reads this will have a revelation too about the spiritual nature of the things we call coincidental.
Or maybe you think that this was merely a psychological manifestation of my religious beliefs, my emotional state, and my imagination. Maybe you are right…maybe it was all in my head, but I thinketh not…

Yours in thought and deed,

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”
~Proverbs 23:7


At Wed Feb 01, 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

That is the eternal struggle.

At Mon Feb 13, 04:41:00 AM, Blogger Mr. Wilson said...

you know what bro...

i just realized the significance of your blog title...

heal thyself indeed.

-mr. wilson

At Tue Feb 21, 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Reina Proverbial said...

you make an interesting revelation here. i'll have to check out the book.

At Fri Jul 28, 02:16:00 AM, Blogger jean-y said...

Most of what you say in this post I heartily agree with, albeit using different vernacular, but there is one thing I'd like to "correct" if I may. You say "It must be difficult for a hardcore atheist to explain away all those feelings of the supernatural when they experience things that are difficult to explain in the natural" but atheism, is the absence of theism (the belief in one or more personal deities) not a disbelief in the supernatural (exceeding nature).

I consider myself an aetheist but I believe in so much more than what I see around me. I believe in something powerful but I don't think that something is a god or the God.

I often find that if I make a choice that is "right" things happen to make it so and if I make a choice that is "wrong" it is like fighting an up hill battle.

When I want something to happen I "put out the feelers" as my mother calls it. I tell people that I want something to happen, and it happens. Spiritual people would call it a prayer that was answered. I call it positive energy. Really it is all part of the same thing just different teminology.

I think half the trouble caused by organised religion the world over is because people don't realise they actually believe in the same thing just written a different way or called a different thing.

At Fri Jul 28, 03:13:00 AM, Blogger jean-y said...

I would like to add to my comment above that I don't think my stumbling upon this post (through the blog of Mr Wilson which I found through random searching) was a coincidence. I have been experiencing a difficulty of late with assimilating with many of the people I care about and whose company I have always enjoyed. I am somewhat of a control freak, which I've always been able to balance, but lately I have been feeling ineffectual. I've discussed this issue with various people who have suggested ways of coping/adjusting but I don't feel it is a problem to be "coped with" or a behavioural thing that needs to be "adjusted". I think it has to do with how I am thinking.

Something has affected my thought processes (whether hormonal, stress related or something entirely incomprehensible). Reading is how I normally expand my mind and perhaps this book is exactly what I need at this juncture. My positive energy may have sought what I required... or my prayers may have been answered.

I don't believe in coincidence.


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