There is a universal craving for desirable things; but in many particulars there would be wide variation of opinion as to what is deservedly to be sought. The subjective bias of different individuals is very unlike; and it is this, rather than abstract merit, which determines the quality and intensity of personal demand.
The lack of completeness is a universal feeling; therefore there is a general reaching out for something not yet realized. This longing is vague, and not readily interpreted; consequently its real significance is generally misunderstood. Experience shows that, as one object after another that has been sought is gained, the demand is at once enlarged; so that, contrary to expectation, the feeling of incompleteness, instead of being satisfied, is even more accentuated. Man stretches out his hands, and grasps that which he has craved, but is surprised to find that the hunger within him has moved forward, and far outstripped its former outermost limit. When intelligently comprehended, however, he finds that this divine dissatisfaction is what differentiates him from the beast, and keeps him faced God-ward.
Alexander wept for other worlds to conquer; and this spirit of out-reaching for new accomplishments and greater possessions is a universal experience. One who had attained everything he desired would be rightly accounted either as abnormal or idiotic. There will be a normal feeling of incompleteness in every human being until, in a certain sense, he feels and realizes that all things are his own.
The cravings of humanity begin upon the lowest plane, and not only expand in breadth, but reach continually higher. The infantile demand for simple warmth and nourishment is but the starting-point of desires which are absolutely illimitable in extent and duration. On all the lower planes of consciousness the expectation is general that perfect contentment is to follow the attainment of present low and limited ideals. This acts like a powerful but ever-retreating magnet, which draws men onward, and still onward.
The young man who engages in business says, "When I have accumulated such a sum I shall be content, and anything further will be a superfluity." But before that point is reached the resistless demand has swept on in advance. The artist sets before him a high standard which will fill the measure of his ambition; but, in time, that which was at the summit of his desire is left below in the dim distance. The scientist will solve a great problem, or utilize a new discovery, and then rest contentedly upon his laurels; but, as he moves on, grander views loom up before him, and unseen hands beckon him forward. This universal soul-hunger for complement, or rather possession, is normal and good. It is the divinity in man which gravitates upward.
But wholesome dissatisfaction, like every other normal quality, is capable of perversion; and this mistake is almost universal upon the lower planes of man's nature. This noble quality, which in the evolutionary unfoldment of the past was only reached as he emerged above the level of animalism, is unwittingly turned backward in its action, and centered upon things which are below its own legitimate domain. Alexander's desire to conquer was laudable, but his application of the law was a sadly erroneous one.
Everyone may rightly aspire to "own the earth," but not through physical conquest, or by means of legal title-deeds and exclusion. There is a higher and a truer kind of ownership. The realist will exclaim that such an idea is purely imaginative, and has no solid basis. But let us look more deeply. It is true that, in a sense, we often have outward possession or control of things we do not own. But making the closest application of true ownership, let us inquire as to the proper method of taking an inventory of one's assets.
Before passing to the metaphysical definition of ownership, which is by far the most real and intrinsic, it is proper to say that we do not in the least impinge upon the legitimate rights of material ownership in its own domain. This right, as recognized by all organized governments, is to be sacredly observed. To question it would be to introduce anarchy and chaos in the place of law and order. It is indispensable upon its own plane and in its own time, and will rightly remain until outgrown by regular processes of evolutionary advancement.
The millionaire is the object of much envy because his actual possessions are assumed to be large. But real ownership requires capacity. That important factor has been left out of the account. No one can truly own beyond it. A legal title may give outward control, but true ownership is deeper. Capacity, or power to contain, cannot be enlarged to order. In reality, one owns that which he can absorb, appropriate, and appreciate, and no more.
Suppose two men together roam through a great conservatory. One has the title-deeds of the same in his pocket, but is quite destitute of all aesthetic feeling and cultivation. To him it is only a piece of "property" representing a sum of money. It is not a conservatory in uses or purpose. He is incapable of its real ownership. Its wealth consists not even in the color, fragrance, and graceful proportion of every plant and flower, but in their intelligent appreciation. Its value is contained in the delight which these can awaken in the soul of the beholder. As a conservatory it has no other uses. The companion of the title-holder may be penniless; but, if he have the developed capacity, the riches he beholds are his own. The other may externally manage a conservatory, but he cannot own one. The same is true of the riches of a great library, and of the beauty and quality enshrined in art, architecture, nature, or a landscape. But ownership, in its true sense, is not limited to the aesthetic appreciation of material things, but covers the whole range of moral and spiritual quality and attainment. Even the ideal things in the character of our neighbor, which we have not yet actualized, are ours, through love and appreciation. Every true quality that one desires is his, wherever it be found. We may thus take possession and pay for what we wish, without the formality of legal documents, "signed, sealed, and delivered."
The wealth of the realist and materialist is very meager, for they are only rich in deficiency and limitation. Riches to them are impossible except through the narrow channel of title-deeds. Instead of entering into possession of the admitted superior qualities of their neighbor, contrast makes them feel poor. To rejoice in another's superior and superb health, wisdom, talent, or beauty, which we are not yet manifesting, is gradually to take possession of them without dispossessing him. Idealism breeds riches because the good, the true, and the beautiful, in their universal aggregate, belong, not merely to the community in general, but to each individual member. Measured by the financial scale, each one becomes a multi-millionaire, minus the usual care and anxiety.
If the ego be soul, and not matter, it is obvious that all real proprietorship must be mental and spiritual. Of necessity it must be subjective, while the holding of legal titles means only objective regulation. The treasures of the mind and investments in ideals are not subject to decline or bankruptcy, and the market is never glutted. With the enlargement of the capital stock comes the continual growth of the power of acquirement. But those mental powers which through a special training gain an expertness that commands only a commercial value—which comprises nine-tenths of so-called education—are only technical and subordinate. True education is the increase of the richness of the mind for its own sake.
All the accumulated attainments of science, triumphs of art, researches of philosophy, achievements of invention, penetration of logic, music of poetry, grandeur of heroism—even the ecstasy of love, the beauty of virtue, and the very inspiration of the Spirit of Truth—belong, not all to all, but all to each. Emerson, the great idealist and intuitive philosopher of modern times, graphically moulds this grand truth:—
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar's hand and Plato's brain,
Of Lord Christ's heart and Shakespeare's strain.
Idealism is the vital element in religion. Paul, philosopher as well as apostle, crowned the apex of a pyramid of spiritual wealth with the aphorism, "All things are yours." From Plato down to Emerson, all the great idealists have been capitalists in the profoundest sense.
What a contrast between the puny, material title-deed, which is not only superficial, but exclusive, and the ideal law of acquirement, whereby everyone may own everything! Poverty is a condition of soul. This is even true on the material plane. The millionaire who feels poor is poor, and nothing but a mental revolution can make him otherwise. On the other hand, the humblest task and the simplest gift may be transmuted into a pleasure and privilege. The world is full of poor people who are rich, but they are utterly unaware of it. There are boundless deposits of virtue, love, goodness, beauty, health, and happiness waiting for drafts to be made upon them. But the eyes of the world in general are fixed upon deficiency, and they see little else.
The pessimist will ridicule such a philosophy, and tell us to come down to the facts; to get out of the clouds, and stand upon the solid ground. He hugs his own woes, and asks, Is not the earth full of wretchedness and illness, and poverty and oppression? Apparently, yes; but it has all been gratuitously self-created. The seen negative creations have not been made in a moment, and it is not claimed that idealism will at once transform them. True subjective wealth is a growth. But so soon as the law of accumulation is grasped, the trend of the world will be rapidly toward universal wealth on every plane. Human vision has been almost entirely filled with outlines of limitation. We must "right about face." Everyone can be rich because he can multiply his ideals and hold them. As this is done, they press with ever-increasing intensity toward expression, articulation, and actuality.
Everyone loves his own ideals. His fancy is not for his actual friend, duty, occupation, book, or profession, but for his ideals of these. He paints them in his own colors, and loves them for the aspect he has thrown around them. Even lovers love not each other, but their own mental pictures. Thus everything real and normal may be clothed with beauty. But our ideals, however fine, cannot exceed the intrinsic actual. Expression today may be faulty, but the constructive vision penetrates beneath the outwardly imperfect to the coming manifestation of the Beal.
Our aspirations are all too low. The inmost actual will at length have expression. Everything is therefore intrinsically better than it seems, because we have made up our opinions from superficial incompleteness. We can rectify, yes, re-create, the external universe by polishing the subjective lens through which we view it. The highest attainment to be sought is the incapacity to see evil. Contrary to the conventional view, this greatly increases our ability to correct it. To fill ourselves with a knowledge of it, in order to combat it, is like attempting to drive darkness out of a cellar without the aid of light. Thought-space is possession; therefore, to think no evil is simply to have no ownership of it. In proportion as it becomes unfamiliar to consciousness, it is remitted to oblivion.
The mind is the depository of its own riches. Even the beauty of a landscape dwells in the beholder. Idealism is the electric motor, by means of which we may make rapid transit from inharmony to harmony, and from poverty to wealth. We go to the ends of the earth to find riches in climate, air, scenery, art, entertainment, and health, with indifferent success. The divine restlessness is upon us, but we misinterpret it. Our poverty is outwardly apparent. Let us therefore turn within, to the safe-deposit of Mind, and acquaint ourselves with its treasures.