March 23, 2017
In this fifth installment in the “Walking the Unity Talk” series, we explore the historical origins of Unity Principle #3, which focuses on the creative power of the thoughts and feelings we hold in mind. By “creative power,” I mean the power and influence that our thoughts and feelings have in creating the reality we experience, whether it be positive or negative.
As A Man Thinketh
In 1903, James Allen first published his influential, pocket-sized book, As a Man Thinketh. Written in the style of a literary essay, Allen described it as “A book that will help you to help yourself.” To Allen, the book’s potential audience was every single person on the planet. For this reason, he wrote it in a simple, straightforward style so that everyone could “easily grasp and follow its teaching.” Additionally, the initial cost of the book was only one shilling, a price cheap enough that everyone could afford a copy.
Inspired by Proverbs 23:7, Allen’s book focused not only on the “power of thought,” but also on the “right application of thought.” Of the book, Allen himself wrote, “It shows how, in his own thought-world, each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances.” At the time, Allen was not alone in his assessment. The central idea that we create our reality through the thoughts we hold in mind was a cornerstone in many of the New Thought spiritual teachings that began appearing near the end of the 19th century, including Unity.
Two Takes On Unity Principle #3
As I have done with prior articles in the “Walking the Unity Talk” series, I offer two different articulations of Unity Principle #3 for your consideration. I also remind you to not get hung up on the differences in specific language, but rather pay closer attention to the essence of their ideas. The first of these is UCOH’s version, as published in its materials and on the website, and the second is from Rev. Ellen Debenport’s book,The Five Principles: A Practical Guide To Spirituality. UCOH’s version reads simply:
“We create our life experiences through our thoughts and feelings.”
I like this articulation. It is concise and clear. It includes both “thoughts and feelings” rather than “thoughts” alone, which many versions do. However, I also believe it stops just short of an important component that would more accurately support its premise. As written, it could be understood, or perhaps misunderstood, that every thought and feeling we have has creative power and influence over the reality we experience. However, there are many thoughts or feelings that may come up during the day that simply pass through our consciousness with no attachment. A more complete articulation of the principle might amend it this way:
“We create our life experiences through the thoughts and feelings we allow to prevail and dominate in our consciousness.”
In other words, it is not enough to just simply have a thought or a feeling in order to create our reality. These “thoughts and feelings” must hold sway in our consciousness and prevail over other potential thoughts and feelings. For example, having a random, infrequent thought that it would be nice to be rich, even having an imaginary feeling about what that might be like, is not enough to overcome a consciousness that is dominated by thoughts of lack and poverty. As James Allen reminds us, we must be willing to work “patiently and intelligently” with our thoughts if we expect to transform our experience.
The Law Of Mind Action
By comparison, in her book, The Five Principles, Rev. Debenport articulates Unity Principle #3 as follows:
“Human beings create their experience by the activity of their thinking. Everything in the manifest realm has its beginning in thought.”
For different reasons, I also like this particular articulation, because it hints at another key metaphysical idea that Unity teaches, which we know as the Law of Mind Action. This idea also forms the heart of the Law of Attraction, which is popular among many New Thought practitioners. However, as stated, this articulation does not say anything about “feelings.” It addresses only the “thoughts” part of the equation. Quite simply, thought alone is not enough to manifest or create our experience. If it were, then simply thinking about food whenever we get hungry would be enough to produce the food. The thought must be married to a feeling, or a desire, in order for it to have the additional impetus to be creative. Paraphrasing James Allen, a man does not attract what he wants, but rather what he is.
While it is undeniably true that everything that has ever come into physical form was first conceived of as a thought held in mind, it is not also true that every thought results in a physical manifestation or expression. Reality does not work that way. Manifestation in our lives, whether positive or negative, takes time and persistence on our parts. We are given many challenges to prove how much we desire something before bringing it into our lives. We are also given many opportunities to correct course should we be attempting to manifest something that is not in our best interest.
Assuming Personal Responsibility Required
Underlying Unity’s third principle is the implied idea of “responsibility assumption.” In other words, if we create our experience by the thoughts and feelings we hold in mind, then we are personally responsible for everything that we experience. Detractors of absolutist interpretations of the principle see it as a way of blaming victims for their experience. Conversely, proponents of the principle see it as empowering to victims, if rightly understood and applied.
In my experience, this particular debate perfectly complements a popular and amended version of the wisdom found in John 8:32, which reads, “The truth will set you free, but first, it will upset you.” There is a more colorful version of this quote, but I will refrain from using it here in this forum.
The “truth” as it relates to Unity Principle #3 is that we do create our experience through the thoughts and feelings we hold in consciousness. We are not necessarily in control of what we experience, but we are always in control of how we go through the experience. Taking control of our experience requires that we assume personal responsibility for it. For many, assuming personal responsibility brings up a lot of fear and resistance, even though doing so is ultimately empowering. Whether we accept personal responsibility, or persist in our avoidance of it, the truth of Unity Principle still prevails. We are creating our experience of either of those states by the thoughts and feelings we hold in mind about their respective possibility.
In the next installment of the “Walking the Unity Talk” series, we will build a bridge between Unity Principle #3 and #4 as we turn our focus on the power that silent meditation and affirmative prayers have on transforming our experience.