Sunday, November 21, 2010

"This Thing Called You" by Ernest Holmes

Ernest Holmes, founder of the Church of Religious Science and all-round California legend, was a prolific writer. Indeed, Holmes seems to have been an overachiever on almost every front - he was a tireless preacher and self-promoter and established a religious empire which continues to have an affect on contemporary popular culture. Of course, his magnum opus The Science of Mind is a book I've been reading slowly all year and blogging along the way. This Thing Called You is a much smaller work, a slim book made up mainly of affirmations, meditations and prayer treatments intended to improve the reader's life and strengthen her sense of living spiritually.
And where The Science of Mind, a vast book in every sense, tends toward the wordy and prolix, this smaller book is actually quite elegant and sparse, setting out in simple language Holmes' own views on how exactly the Universe (not my capital "U") functions. Indeed, it is a terrific read at times, inspiring and thoughtful, providing a very clear and practical path of spiritual practice.
In every piece of Holmes' writing that I have read thus far it is clear that his philosophy owes a debt primarily to Emerson and Mary Baker Eddy (though probably through the medium of her student and later rival Emma Curtis Hopkins). Indeed, he is free in his references to Emerson, as are most New Thought writers. He is less forthcoming in his recognition of the guiding hand of Eddy - if she is mentioned at all it is in elliptical and disapproving references.
The book's primary theme is, as always, that each of us represents the Universe in its entirety, that, to quote Emerson (as Holmes does) "...every man is a doorway to the inifinite." This infinitude which we represent (and which we are, at the most basic level) needs only to be awakened to. We need not go on any spiritual search, says Holmes, because:

"...the thing you are after is already here, within you. The only things that stand between you and it are the accumulated thoughts, beliefs and emotions of the ages" (p.13).

More than a slight impediment, one would imagine, but Holmes is eternally optimistic that the human is moving ever forward (or should that be inward) toward full knowing of her own divinity. Holmes says that the problem of our future lies not in being selfish or unfairly possessed of good fortune. The real problem is that we do not wish for more and better for ourselves and others. Our wishes, desires and thoughts create our own reality, and so communal ideas (memes, I suppose we'd call them now) are merely these same false constructs writ large. Poverty and suffering exist only because we continue to acknowledge their reality. All that is good and perfect already exists - is, in fact, all that is real - we have simply failed to arrange the world and our lives in the correct way. Holmes advocates not revolution, but the rearrangement of mental furniture (p.17).
We encounter exactly those things we imagine, says Holmes, "If you believe that wherever you go you will meet with love and friendship, with appreciation and gratitude, then this will become...your law" (p. 18). This is, of course, a classic New Thought assertion, and it also speaks of exactly the sort of folk wisdom common not only to early twentieth century Americans, but to most of us now. Common sense and theological assertion, however, do not make for much of a scientific case, and those more cynically minded might be happy to point towards plenty of examples of the gullible and the kind meeting sticky ends, despite their best feelings.
But Holmes would stand his ground, I imagine, and in this book brooks no oppositional voice, nor even raises the spectre of an alternative (and much less comforting) viewpoint. For the practitioner of Science of Mind, as for all of the early exponents of New Thought, it is the matter of belief which shapes our physical world, our mental universe, and the reality we continue to experience. It may be cold comfort, but for the experiencer of misfotune, harrassment or slander, Holmes' has simple and constant advice:

"...everything in your life depends on is done unto you as you believe. Change your belief and you can change your world" (p. 25).

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Science of Mind's Meditation for Happiness

Happiness and Completion

I am happy and complete, today and forever.
Within me is that which is Perfect and Complete.
It is the Spirit of all Life, Truth and Action.
I am happy in the certain knowledge of this Inner Light.
I cannot be sad nor sorry, but must radiate Joy and Life,
For Life is within me now.

I am happy and complete.

Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind, p. 511

Monday, November 15, 2010

"The Treatment" in the Science of Mind

Perhaps the central spiritual technology of Science of Mind is The Treatment. This is a collection of affirmations and statements of "spiritual truth" asssembled by a Science of Mind practitioner explicitly for the use of a particular person. The practitionar speaks this Treatment in their own prayer for a designated time, and the person being treated is also given the Treatmet to read and reflect on in their private worship time.

In his books, Ernest Holmes presents hundreds of Treatments for specific problems or for those desiring specific positive outcomes. These are frequently the basis of any tailor-made Treatment.

Much care is taken by Holmes to stress that the Treatment is not a work of incantatory or intercessory prayer. It is not a magical spell, recited in the hope that God might hear the words and change your condition. The purpose of the Treatment is to re-align the subject's thoughts. These Treatments are, in fact, statements of fact, not lists of desires. When the Practitioner speaks the treatment in her own period of practice, she declares that "It is already Done." She is not praying that a subject be changed or saved - she is making a declaration that this is already a fact. By writing down and speaking these "Facts" the people involved fall back into harmony with Divine Perfection.

Another important element of the Treatment is that they are not to be simply spoken aloud. The thoughtless repetition of a Treatment is completely pointless. The person using the Treatment must attempt to genuinely believe the words being read and spoken. It is an exercise not in recitation, but in the manipulation of feeling and emotion. So it is not efficacious to simply say "I am slim and healthy" over and over again. One must really believe it to be already true. Indeed, if one can convince oneself of the truths of the Treatment, then no repetition at all is necessary - it is spoken and it is believed, and the job has already been done.

Practitioners distinguish Treatment from prayer by pointing out that the Treatment is a genuine engagement in self, with the God within. Prayer is a form of communication with an outward God, a deity that does not exist in New Thought.

Here is a sample Science of Mind treatment written by Sylvia O'Neal, a Religious Science Practitioner*:

"God is total peace, heart felt love, absolute calm, breathtaking beauty and unending joy. I have a consciousness of Oneness. All that God is, I am. As I feel complete peace in mind, heart and soul, a feeling of well being fills my world. Peaceful is my way of life. My thoughts, actions and words of peace express my God nature, the truth of who I am. As I focus my inward thoughts of peace in my life, my family, community the Universe becomes more peaceful. I give thanks for the peace in my world. With a consciousness of peace I release this into the Law of Mind. And so it is."

* Source:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Evil in the Science of Mind

Probably the greatest theological problem faced by New Thought is the question of the existence of evil. This same problem dogs orthodox Christianity, of course, but at least itcan fall back on the doctrine of original sin. That doctrine is rejected by New Thought, which teaches that we are all created perfectly, not just in the image of God but as manifestations of God - a part of creation which is eternal, wholly good and perfect. The existence of bad thinsgs in such a schema would seem to be a fundamental stumbling point. It was exactly this point that many of the early critics of Christian Science (most notably Mark Twain, to the consternation of his devoutly Christian Science daughter) harped on, and it continues to be the achilles heel of New Thought philosophy. If God is Good and good is our natural state of being, why do we witness so many bad things in our world?
"Evil is man created," says Ernest Holmes in The Science of Mind (p. 499). He goes on to explain "God - the eternal goodness - knows nothing about it. He is too pure to behold evil and cannot look upon it. Evil is the direct and suppositional opposite to good, and has no reality behind it, or actual law to come to its support." This is the standard explanation, and is pretty much the same thing you'd hear from a Christian Scientist or, for that matter, a Swedenborgian. God is only goodness, so anything that we might interpret as evil is created by us, and is, in fact, an illusion. This seems an adequate response, but I always want to ask, "Yes but why? Why do we have to suffer these delusions? If God is Good and wants only happiness for us why has he allowed us to create these phantoms of unhappiness?" The response to this is that we have been afforded free will - that free will is, in fact, the one essential aspect of our being as humans, the thing with which God has gifted us. This is an idea which derives clearly from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. We are free to choose at any moment between good and evil. Interestingly, this same notion of free will is essential to most Buddhist thinking - that conditions, circumstances and karma are all very real, but equally real is that moment of volition when we can choose between a wise or a foolish action.
It is interesting to note, as well, that in this passage Holmes seems to be anthropomorphising God, something strictly frowned upon in New Thought theology. This turn of phrase is undoubtedly reflexive, but it betrays an older way of thinking about God, creation and the problem of evil. God in this description is definitely a pure deity, one who knows only good, and cannot see imperfection. But to my mind it begs the question - because it is unseen, does it mean it doesn't exist? In the rest of his writing (and in New Thought in general) Holmes absolutely rejects a dualistic vision of the universe as divided between good and evil. The problem is always in human perception, in our own misunderstanding of circumstances. In an essay on The Impersonal Face of God, Holmes writes:

"We are not dealing with a negative as well as a positive Power—not two powers but one; a power that sees neither good nor evil as we see it. It knows only that it is all, and since it is all, it creates whatever is given it. From our limited standpoint we often think of good and evil; not realizing that, as yet, we do not know the one from the other. What we call good today, we may call evil tomorrow, and what we think to be evil today, we may tomorrow proclaim as the greatest good we have known. Not so with the Great Universal Power of Mind; It sees only Itself and Its infinite ability to create."

To further refine his explanation in The Science of Mind, Holmes goes on to make a distinction between God, which is all good, and Universal Law, which is objective and unchangeable. "The law is no respecter of persons and will bring good or evil to any, according to his use or misuse of it" (SOM, p. 500). So God is the source of all good, but his agency is the action of Universal Law. It is the duty of the human to work with these immutable laws and fall into harmony with them - thus bringing ourselves the promised perfection.
So serious is this question of evil (and, probably, so recurrent were the questions surrounding it) that Holmes devotes a whole section of The Science of Mind to it. Here he underlines the notion of evil as an unwise use of life's laws and conditions. It is nothing in and of itself - it is a fiction. It is the word we use to describe a whole host of results, the causes of which are mysterious to us. Evil is a destructive meme, and the student of Religious Science can leave the concept behind forever. "To turn from evil and do good is the desire of every soul who is consecrated to the Truth; this we can do only as we cease talking about, believing in, or doing evil."

Maggie Hamilton - An Introduction

One very important element of self-help writing that I will be exploring in my thesis is the influence of what is commonly known as the "New Age." Anyone who has had anything to do with books in the last 20 years will know that this segment of the publishing industry has had an explosion in popularity. Though this popularity has died down somewhat, it is still a very important section of the market, and most publishers have an imprint (or two) devoted especially to New Age titles.
Indeed, at some point in the 80s the literature of self-help and the New Age became blended in the minds of publishers, retailers and book buyers, and these days the distinctions between them are hard to define.
The central author I'll be concentrating on in my chapter on the New Age is Maggie Hamilton. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I must mention that Maggie is not only a personal friend, but also my publisher. This leaves me in the unenviable position of analysing closely and critiquing the work of a friend! But the thrust of my thesis is not to in any way tear down or dismiss the genre of self-help. On the contrary, the fundamental idea of my thesis is that these books represent important cultural artefacts, and document a popular literary history of Australia. Nonetheless, I am reading them closely for patterns and intertextuality, for derivations and similarities - no author could be comfortable with that kind of analysis!
Like that other great icon of Australian self-help, Stephanie Dowrick, Maggie emerged from the publishing industry. They also both hark from New Zealand, which is another fascinating coincidence - and quite possibly material for an entire journal article. But I digress.
Having achieved some success as a children's author, Maggie published her first book spiritual self-help book, Coming Home, in 2002. Very much a book of its time, it combined a whole host of spiritual influences in describing a spiritual journey "Home" to the soul. Elegantly written and beautifully produced in its first edition (complete with Pre-Raphaelite detail on the cover), Coming Home represented the fruits of Maggie's own spiritual journey, with Shamanic, Spiritualist and New Age Christian ideas peppered throughout.
Maggie later branched out into a more practical (and to some, more accessible) format of writing books of more specifically focused (and less overtly spiritual) advice. The first was Love Your Work in 2004, followed by What Men Don't Talk About in 2007. This excursion into the problems of gender prompted Maggie to continue to tease out these questions, and she has produced two highly successful books specifically addressing the problems of parenting: What's Happening to Our Girls (2008) and What's Happening to Our Boys (2010). In the interim she has also continued to write in the areas of spirituality and self-help, producing a small book of inspirations in 2004, Magic of the Moment, and a wonderfully eclectic and wide-ranging collection of essays and encounters with the sacred, A Soft Place to Land (2007).
Importantly, Maggie's influence on the world of New Age publishing continues behind the scenes. She is the director of the New Age imprint at Allen & Unwin, Inspired Living, and in that capacity has published a number of important Australian books in the area.
She also excels as a speaker and teacher, and is much sought after in that capacity.
I look forward to reading her books more carefully as I attempt to identify their influences and place them more exactly on the continuum of self-help literature in Australia. The breadth of her influences and the widespread success of her work make her a perfect case study for my thesis.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That's Just How My Spirit Travels

At first Rosemary Fillmore Rhea's book That's Just How My Spirit Travels seems a peculiar kind of memoir. Hers is not a big name in any area (except, perhaps, within the management of the Unity church), and her life has not been one of any dramatic peaks and troughs. But after a while the book begins to charm and eventually the reader is left utterly absorbed in the life and spiritual vision of someone with a truly unique insight into a modern American spiritual movement which, though small and relatively unknown, has had an immense influence on Western culture.
Rhea is the grandaughter of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of the Unity church, the largest organised religious movement based on the teachings of New Thought. She was, naturally, born into the movement, and so this memoir is a fascinating insight into the life and ideas of someone who from the cradle has been taught the precepts of New Thought: that the world is perfect, that our thoughts create our circumstances, and that God is within us.
That's Just How My Spirit Travels has some wonderful stories about the Fillmores and the early days of Unity (the church is based in its own mini-town on the outskirts of Kansas City called Unity Village). Rhea recalls entertaining in her living room (she was married to a Unity Minister, and became one herself, eventually) extraordinary people such as Alan Watts, Victor Frankl and Norman Vincent Peale. The celebrity spotting doesn' stop there. Rhea and her husband branched out into television in the seventies, and this saw them moving into a more elevated world of showbiz, and soon we meet people like Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and (my personal favourite) Jennifer Jones. The short segments that they filmed with fading movie stars and other celebrities were broadcast across America as 'The Word from Unity' (based on Unity Church's venerable inspirational monthly almanac The Daily Word), and these short spots have since moved into the realms of nostalgic reverence, their style lampooned most famously by "The Church Lady" on Saturday Night Live.
She is suprprisingly honest in her assessment, not only of the spiritual empire built up around her family, but of the difficulties and challenges an advocate of New Thought faces in dealing with life's less-than-pleasing complexities. Herself a divorcee who lost her mother as a child, occasionally she expresses the frustration with this essential conflict between the reality of loss and the rigid worldview of New Thought that doesn't allow for disappointment. Rhea attempts to explain it by saying (in this case in relation to the death of Natalie Wood) "Why people have to experience such tragedy is inexplicable, but there must be reasons that only our soul knows and perhaps at some point in time we will understand why every experience is a necessary part of our journey" (186). It is a brave and eloquent explanation, but I fear it wouldn't cut the mustard with the Dawkins-inspired neo-atheists who currently hold the hegemonic upper hand in present-day discourse.
Like most advocates of New Thought, Rhea's own politics veer toward the liberal and she is an enthusiast for international friendship groups and such like, as practical ways of establishing relationships between different cultures. She is also a staunch supporter of non-violence, tracing back the roots of discord to our own mental unrest, and crediting her grandfather with bringing this fact to the attention of the world.
Using the example of her own humble life, imperfectly lived, Rhea seeks in her memoir to establish some kind example of how New Thought philosophy might play out through the period of a lifetime. She sees a continuum between the radical religious ideas of Tolstoy, the practical spiritual philosophy of her grandparents and the more radical and political path of Gandhi and the later generations of 1960s America. For Rhea violence manifest in the world is, in the ultimate analysis, "Violence against our inner self" (228). She is at pains to acknowledge the real presence of anger and social injustice in our world, but her philosophy encourages her to see an end to this imperfection, and to dwell on practically solving their problems rather than dwelling on the fact of injustice.
That's Just How My Spirit Travels is a charming and old-fashioned read. You can download the two episodes of 'Hooked on Classics' from Unity FM to hear Rosemary Fillmore Rhea herself interviewed. In many ways she is the last of her kind - a living and very involved link to the great blossoming of New Thought that reaches back into the mid-nineteenth century. For the student of modern religion it is a fascinating book, and on a personal level I came away quite in love with this honest and unpretentious woman who has, despite appearances, led a truly extraordinary life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Science of Mind on Strange Ideas

"We are not to be afraid of strange ideas or doctrines, but are to prove them and accept only that which is true. We are to analyze, dissect and investigate until we know the Truth and then hold fast to It. In this way, all advances must come, whether in science, philosophy, religion or anything else."
~ Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind, p. 498

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heaven in The Science of Mind

The New Thought idea of heaven represents quite a departure from the standard Swedenborgian visions which initially inspired the movement. By the time Holmes was writing The Science of Mind, the vision of heaven being enunciated was a distinctly Buddhistic one, described more as a state of mind and being than as an actual place.
Holmes writes that "Only that can return to heaven which was born in heaven, and since heaven is not a place, but a state of consciousness, the return must be a recognition that heaven is already within" (SOM p. 472). This is a further illustration of Holmes' central idea (via Mary Baker Eddy and a host of New Thought writers) that the process of self-improvement is not one of seeking outward advances, but of returning to an already existing state of perfection. Holmes criticises orthodox religion because it most often externalises the spiritual quest. In Holmes' philosophy all of the things that people have considered to be outside them - God, Heaven, even Christ - are in fact already in place in our spirit. We have forgotten that we are simply expressions of these qualities, and so we foolishly pursue an outward quest to discover something we are in fact carrying with us constantly. More than being a place on earth, heaven is our own mind, if we will allow it to re-unite with Original Mind.
Holmes says that we are unaware of these truths because centuries of conditioning have rendered us incapable of comprehending the true spiritual message of Christianity. It is only in this modern age, when our world is advancing and our minds improving, that teachers like Holmes and others are able to finally explain the truth. Those who refuse to believe are simply emulating the thick-headed listeners spoken about in John3:12 "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" We struggle with the ideas of illusion, when we could be falling into accord with the realities of heaven.
For Holmes the world that is real - the world we know now - is in fact the illusion. It is maya, and it is merely a distraction. But if the ways of the world hurt us, if we know sorrow and difficulty, this may be a good thing. Such sufferings may be what inspire us to begin on the spiritual path. Many of us are doomed to learn to the fullest extent the impossibility of a worldly outlook, but hopefully once we see the futility of materialism, "the lesson will be learned and we shall enter the paradise of contentment" (SOM p. 491).
Like all other Biblical concepts and imagery, heaven is for the most part a symbol for Holmes. It is the code word for all that is good, and all that which is most spiritual. "The time will come when we will let our "conversation be in heaven," and refuse to talk about, read or think about, those things that ought not to be" (SOM p. 55), says Holmes, describing one of New Thought's more controversial edicts: avoiding and denying those things which aren't in accord with perfection. The heavenly state is one in which positive thought, feeling and action are constantly at work. The metaphysician (for so Holmes describes the student of New Thought) must choose always the heavenly path, and to dwell always in heavenly qualities, though the truth around her may be quite different. It is Holmes' point that this "truth" of suffering, of lack and discontent, is in fact truly false. That which is not good is error - only the good is heavenly.
In fact, the effort to improve, to become a truly good person, is itself a daily struggle, a daily spiritual journey from the earthly to the heavenly. In his 1957 book How to Change Your Life, Holmes wrote that "...being lifted up from the earth means uniting with heaven. This daily lifting up of your thought is necessary if you wish to unite yourself and everything you are doing with the Divine..." (p. 252). Holmes seems to be suggesting that in manipulating our thoughts and the direction and intention of our daily tasks, we re-orient ourselves heavenward, and can be immersed once again in the divine perfection from which we emerged.