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Practical Idealism

Some people have a great deal of the practical, and very little of the idealistic. Again, other people are very idealistic, without having much that is practical, but between any two extremes is always found the something that will prove truly beneficial. Idealism that is not practical is of very little benefit to any one; and again, one who is not idealistic has really not yet begun to live, for if a man became so practical that he lives only to accumulate material wealth, his life is in reality wasted. We need both: we need to be like the trees that grow, sending their roots down deep into the ground, and yet sending their branches up into the heavens.

While living in this world, we should try to receive all the good that the world can possibly give. It is a mistake to believe that we should live in this world as ascetics, or that we are merely pilgrims here for a little time, and the sooner we get through with the world the better it will be. Such people will awaken some time to a knowledge of their mistake.

To pass through the world without getting the benefit that the world offers is to lose much. Sometimes it is easier to hold to one thing than it is to adjust one's life to two conditions, and yet these two conditions of life are necessary—an inner consciousness is as necessary to life as an outer consciousness, and the man or woman who neglects one or the other is going to be one-sided, lacking true adjustment.

The world more frequently recognizes the one-sidedness of the people who tend toward idealism, while oblivious of the narrowness of those who give up their time and all their thought to the accumulation of material things. People would not consider it one-sidedness in the latter case, because it is the common way of the world, and we look upon this common way as being a very essential way, a necessary way. If anyone should come into our practical, our utilitarian, world to-day, and try to imitate the Master—the great Nazarene—living His life, going about from place to place, often having nowhere to lay His head, often hungry and thirsty, we would say that such a man was not practical in this age and in this generation. But let me tell you that we have forgotten all about the practical men of His generation, while this one great soul stands out unique and alone, because the life was lost in thought for others—in thinking and doing and caring for others. The practical side of life passes away; only the ideal lives on forever.

Thus we eventually come to see that ideals dominate life, and without ideals we are little better than the animals. The squirrels store up their nuts sufficient to last them through the hard, cold winter. We know so much better than the squirrels: we store up not only sufficient to last through the winter, or the rainy day, but sufficient to last one generation after another generation, and we think that in doing this we are accomplishing God's work. If we could only understand that we are here to live life—we are here to give expression to every power and to every possibility that is written into the life.

But, supposing someone undertakes to make life so easy for another to live that it prevents any real incentive on his part for giving expression to his innate powers and possibilities.

What benefit or what good can such a course accomplish? It must of necessity retard development and keep back the evolution of life; for when people give all their thought and attention to storing up this world's goods for their children, they are doing that which invariably interferes with their development. Work is a necessity to life, and if we are not working—if we are not expressing, then we are not fulfilling life. It is, therefore, quite possible to so enrich others with material wealth that instead of being a help to them, it becomes a very decided hindrance.

We need strong, true ideals in life, and then we must make the effort to express our ideals. Idealism does not mean that there is no outer world and that ideals are all, but that ideals exist first, and that sooner or later must come their expression in outer form.

Of what use is an ideal that can never find expression? Of what benefit is it to one if he build wonderful ideals with the imagination and never see those ideals take form in the world? Of what particular benefit is it to him or to any one else? No; an ideal must find expression, and when it finds expression, according to one's own way and according to his own method, then it represents something that is in his own life; but if it is an ideal borrowed from someone else, and then expressed to some degree, one does not live in it the same way as though it were a part and parcel of himself. No one can copy after another and be successful in the highest degree. Of course, many think that there are minds so far superior to their own, that they can copy from these minds and get greater results than through living out what they could think themselves. If you take a copy of a painting, you will always find, no matter how beautiful the reproduction may be as regards color and technic, there is something about it that is not alive. It is not a living picture, because the man has not put his thought, his soul into the picture; therefore he could not express his thought or soul by copying the work of a master, no matter how great the master might be.

We should then have our own ideals in life, and we should express them. The ideal in the first place may be crude, the expression still cruder, but continued effort to express not only gives a better and more perfect result, but opens the way for a larger and more beautiful ideal.

There is something that each individual can do in this world, and do it better than any other individual...some one particular thing. If one can find that which he can do best, and put his highest thought and feeling into it, then it really becomes a living thing—the thought becomes a thing that is expressed in the outer world. "Thoughts are things." But only when charged with vital energy do they become things; when you put your feeling into your thinking; when you have faith in the power that animates your being, when you have faith in your ideal, then the work becomes a living thing—something that in blessing your own life will as surely bless the lives of others.

We want, then, to be practical in this world, but the practice of anything, without a living ideal back of it, is of little use in development. Remember, all development comes through effort made on the part of the individual.

It does not come because of a power outside of a man's self, for there is no power outside of a man's self that either retards or aids his development. It is simply in the way that he is adjusted to life. If he is harmoniously adjusted, then development is unimpeded, but when inharmoniously adjusted to life and its environments, although development is taking place, it is not the development that conforms to the true ideal. You have perhaps at some time seen a tree growing between two great rocks, and being hard pressed on either side it loses its form; it does not express what it was intended to express. So very often in this life through failure to adjust there comes the pressure of environment. We attribute it all to environment; we say that it has made us what we are; that circumstances have so controlled our lives that we could not be any different, even if we wanted to. Now, this is not true. The strong mind—the strong will— controls circumstances; the strong mind with the true ideal brings about adjustment to environment. We make our lives just what they are; they are not made for us.

Individualized life is the continual unfolding of a plan that has been written into it. Now, the great Universal Soul involved the plan, but every individual evolves or gives expression to the plan that is written into the life. We are told that salvation is a gift, that it is free, and then we are told to work out our own salvation. The gift is this: that the plan was in the very beginning of things the plan of a perfect man, of the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ; but only in the fullness of time, only through His own personal effort, was that plan ever evolved.

From the crudest state—from the Adam— to the Christ, the evolution of the plan has been going on; and in so far as it is possible for us to know, the highest plan is that disclosed by Jesus, the Christ. We, as Christian people believing in the teachings of Jesus, naturally consider His life as a full expression of the ideal man. The Buddhist would say that the highest plan of life came through Buddha and from his conception of it he would be right, because he understands the plan better, possibly, than most Christians understand the Christ plan. The Hindu might say that Krishna gave the most wonderful ideals concerning life; so it might go from one faith to another.

All are true to a degree, none encompass the Absolute; we cannot say, as Christians, that the Buddhists are not right, but the Christians are; that the Christian theory of life is true, but the Buddhist is false. What we can say is this: that we get from the teachings of Jesus, the Christ, something that seems to satisfy, and that the Buddhist gets from the teachings of Buddha something that satisfies him, and the Mohammedan gets from the teachings of Mohammed something which brings satisfaction to his mind. God is the Father of one great family—mankind. All men are members, one of another; there is a great brotherhood of humanity. We have differences—we make all kinds of differences— we throw all kinds of limitations around ourselves, but there is just one God, Father of all, Mother of all, who hath made of one blood all people who dwell on the face of the earth. All people—not some people, but all people who dwell on the face of the earth.

All people have their different ideals concerning life, but the main point is this: if we are living the Christian ideal, believing that to be the highest and the best, then that is all that is expected of us. Again, if the Buddhists, Hindus and Mohammedans are living their ideals, why should we expect more of them?

Let us recognize the fact that humanity is representing many different stages of evolution, and that which is good for one people at one time in their particular stage of evolution, may not be good for another people in a more or less advanced stage of evolution. What is necessary then is charity, concerning the ideals of other people. The only exception any one could take is as to whether the people are living their ideals—whether they are living up to the best they know, and, after all, man is no true judge of his fellow man. So we need not take time to consider that. There is just one thing to be considered: not the ideals held to by different religious bodies, not the ideals held to by different nations, but the ideal held to by each individual person (because it all comes down to that); and what is each individual person doing with his ideals? Because if he is failing to express his ideals, then it would be better for him had he never formed any ideals. You might ask why. My answer to that would be this: that if you have an ideal in mind, and fail to live and give expression to it, then that ideal convicts you, and it is the only thing that ever will convict you: it convicts you of failure to live your ideal. Jesus once said: "If I had not come, ye had not sinned." The question then naturally arises, How was it possible for Jesus to bring sin into the world? Only in this way: Jesus gave a higher, a more unselfish ideal of living, and people perceiving and failing to live it, were and are convicted by the ideal dwelling within them.

And so we are judged by our ideals, and unless we are living the ideals we have in mind we are out of tune with our conscience. If we are trying to live those ideals, remember, no matter how mistaken we may be, if we are trying to live what we believe to be right and what we believe to be true, then the way, if it is not altogether clear, will be shown us, because we grow through action. An ideal in mind prompts us to do something; the result is either harmony or discord, and the ideal must be judged by its effect. If everything we are doing in life is simply producing discord and unrest, then it shows that we need a new set of ideals; but whenever the ideal is producing harmony, greater peace of mind, greater strength of mind, giving us greater power, then that shows that we must be in the way that leads to life.

But someone may say: "Oh, you are altogether wrong; you are not living up to the real, the truest standard of life, and you should make your standard conform more to what other people require." The records show that both Jesus and John the Baptist had the same difficulty. They said of John: "Why, this man neither eats nor drinks; he goes out into the wilderness and separates himself from his fellow men. This man hath a devil." That was the only way they found to account for his unusual actions, and when Jesus went about among the people, eating and drinking, and doing apparently very much as the people about him, they said: "Behold! a glutton and a wine-bibber." One sees then how impossible it is to adjust to other people's ideals, and, therefore, how necessary it is to have ideals of one's own and to live them as best one knows how—making mistakes, but finding out those mistakes through action. In this way one makes his ideal something that lives in the world, for he is giving it expression.

No one would think of keeping a little child from trying to walk, even if that child tumbled down occasionally. No; one would say that the falling down but tended to make the child become more careful, that he would try to overcome that condition of falling, and one would also know that every time the child put forth effort he was making for greater strength as well as greater security. So our mistakes in life become to us stepping-stones to a knowledge of higher things.

It is evident that many people are not so much interested in their present ideals as they are in conditions of the past or future events. Some people are continually troubled and worried over things of the past. Other people are continually troubled over things of the future. Now, the one thing is this: we are living to-day; we are living in this hour, in this minute. The one thing that really concerns us is not how we are going to live tomorrow, or how we lived yesterday, but just how we are living at this present moment; because it is that which counts; it is neither the past nor the future, but the living present, and therefore the ideal should always be put in the present. The practice of the ideal should always be in the present. One must not wait or think that a time will come when he can give a better or truer expression to the ideal, but know that the time is here, and the time is now. He should live what he believes is right in the present moment, and try to do it as best he knows how.

Put your ideals of health and happiness, not into the future time, but right into the present moment; realize that you can be well, that you can be whole, that you can be strong, and that you can begin to be all that this very minute, if you will it so to be. We acquire whatever we desire in this life, in the shortest possible time, by working for it right in the present, not delaying, thinking that we are going to be stronger, thinking that we are going to have greater intelligence to do it in the future. We gain our intelligence and we gain our strength always through doing. It is through action that greater intelligence and greater strength come into life. What we need, then, is more action—more practical action—more desire to express the inner ideal. Remember that to the ideal belongs the inner life, but the expression of the ideal is always an outer thing. The desire for health is in the soul and mind, but the expression of health is always in the physical organism. Let the physical organism express, then, all you desire to have it express. Desire is prayer, and if you pray, knowing that you will receive, do not think that the receiving is going to come at some distant or future time, for: "When ye pray, believe that ye have," not that you are going to have, but that you have. "But," you say, "How foolish that would be to say it is possible to pray and have at the same time." The ideal, remember, is the plan. If you have the plan worked out in your mind, have you not already begun to realize something of that which you desire? You could not work out something without the plan. Now, if you have the plan, you have laid the foundation: just go right on and know that the building will be built on that foundation, and that you have really begun your building.

There are times in life when the dreaming side, we might say, is necessary—when we have to dream about things. But that is only a momentary time, and then comes the action, because this is, peculiarly, a world of action. Dream just as true as you can; then make your visions come true.

Make your thought pictures clear and well defined, and then go to work and make your dream a real thing in the world, no matter what your dream may be—whether it is a dream for health, a dream for happiness, or a dream to do good in this world—have your dream come true; build your castles in the air, and then see them realized on earth.

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917
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