Friday, April 24, 2009

The Body Expressing the Mind

A very common idea within the world of self-help is that sickness is merely an external expression of negative states of mind.
The virus, the bacteria, the inherited illness - all are bunkum in the world of self-help, where one's unfortunate physical circumstances can only ever be evidence of wrong thinking.
This is a very old idea, and, like many popular self-help ideas, can be traced back to the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a faith healer who inspired the work of Mary Baker Eddy and many others.
The concept is still going strong - kept alive in the 80s and 90s through the work of Louise L. Hay, some Australia authors also subscribe to this system of ideas, most notably Annette Noontil and Inna Segal. In most of these books one can look up the symptoms of one's illness and discover the corresponding mental or spiritual causes. Then there is normally a suggested cure, taking the shape of an affirmation or prayer or visualisation which will reverse the negative state that caused the trouble. Such a system seems to be very comforting to those who are ill - probably quite understandable when one considers how alienating and authoritarian the conventional medical system can be.
I'm very interested in Inna Segal's work because she is quite young and the book (The Secret Language of Your Body) has been released quite recently. It intrigues me how she managed to learn and absorb these old ideas. I can see the strong influence of New Thought and Christian Science teachings in the work.
But, on a purely practical level I have to report that a chronic health condition I was suffering from last year remained completely unaffected even though I scrupulously applied these 'esoteric healing' methods. Eventually the only cure was good old fashioned surgery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Orison Swett Marden

Marden was an interesting character. One of the great popularisers of the New Thought movement, Marden was in his day an extraordinarily well-known and successful author, though he's largely forgotten today.
Born of humble stock, Marden was something of a child prodigy, and at an early age had managed to earn himself a slew of higher-educaion degress, including Masters Degrees in both medicine and law. Having written a bestselling book based on the principles of New Thought - principles that had helped turn Marden into such an extraordinary achiever - he promptly gave up the professional careers he'd spent so long studying for and concentrated on being a wildly successful author of self-help books.
At present I am reading his The Miracle of Right Thought, an edition printed in Australia in 1935, which is a clue as to his popularity even here.
It is a charming book, filled with the old-fashioned kind of exhortations to positive thinking and trust in God that are so common in the New Thought books of the period. Marden urges us never to complain, as our complaints shape our lives as much as our praises. "Right thinking will produce right living" he reminds us.
Marden was a monumental figure in the history of self-help publishing, and I think I will enjoy reading his old books. I'm not sure I will be able to cover them all, however. He was enormously prolific, and his titles run into the dozens.
He calls God "The Great Dispenser of All Good" - a truly worthy title, and one I'd like to steal, were it not such a mouthful.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Catherine Ponder

Catherine Ponder is one of the most stellar, and certainly one of the most loveable, figures in the history of self-help publishing.
Ms. Ponder rose to fame through a series of books which managed, somewhat perplexingly, to fuse Biblical stories with a self-help theory of prosperity and personal development. Currently I'm reading her great classic The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity. Some of her other titles include The Millionaires of Genesis and The Millionaire Moses.
Ponder's own biography is an essential part of her appeal. Born poor, she was widowed at an early age and left destitute. Through a careful study of the Bible and the writings of Charles & Myrtle Fillmore, Ponder managed to create for herself a prosperous lifestyle. She became a Unity minister, and went on to Pastor several successful congregations, teaching her own high-octane version of the prosperity gospel and running workshops on spirituality and the creation of money.
These workshops and lectures make up the bulk of the material in her books, and have also been the source of many of the examples and case studies she cites.
The books are wonderfully eccentric, veering from old-fashioned biblical exegesis to frenzied affirmations of impending wealth and well-being. She peppers the books with all kinds of eccentric advice and exercises, from throwing away all of one's old clothes in order to allow the universe to send you nice new ones, to writing letters to one's angels and secreting them in the family bible till your wishes come true.
As one would expect from a Unity minister, Ms. Ponder's philososphy is pretty standard New Thought, but her wildly successful books prove that her readership extends well beyond that particular religion.
I just adore her - I imagine she was/is a completely outrageous and very colourful person, and the assuredness of her assertions and randomness of her advice make the books constantly entertaining, and frequently inspiring.