Everyone who reflects at all, knows that people are affected by the circumstances in which they are placed. But although such influence is felt, it by no means proves that man is not superior to the varying conditions of life that so often influence him. It does not require a long process of reasoning, or much hard thinking, to discover that circumstances are constantly altering, according to the progress, or otherwise, of mankind in relation to their thought life.
Environment naturally falls under three headings, viz.:—Natural, Artificial, and Spiritual. Each of these are subject to law, and as such, are expressions of a conscious mind.
By natural environment is meant the state of nature, uninterfered with by man. Artificial environment is that created by man.
Spiritual environment is the invisible world of man's thoughts.
The whole process of evolution has been one of adaptation to the changes of the physical world. Changes in nature have exerted an influence upon man, and have contributed in no small degree to his upward career. Man's ideas have been drawn, mainly, from the observation of natural phenomena, and all religions are susceptible of a natural explanation when traced to their primitive source. The natural environment of our ancestors wielded a vast influence upon their thought life.
The natural trend of progress in the material universe being upward, from gross to fine, with the varying conditions of life imposed by such a process, have had their effect in causing man to advance, and by the law of adaptation he has, according to the changes in outward conditions, brought himself into harmony therewith, and hence progress has resulted. As man advanced and discovered the uses inherent in his surroundings, there naturally sprang up in the breasts of some, a feeling of superiority to existing conditions. Such men were the pioneers of progressive thought. Instead of acting according to the circumstances they found themselves in, they struck out, and made circumstances of their own, and became masters, instead of remaining servants. To such sturdy thinkers we owe a great deal, for the path of the original thinker in the early days of man's progress was not so smooth as now.
We are the concrete expressions of ages gone by. The atoms of the physical body being the same as those of the material universe, accounts for the great sympathy existing between us and nature. Man is related to the minutest atom, and to the most stupendous orb. He is a result of a "conspiration" of tendencies on the part of nature, is a focusing of the Cosmic Consciousness, and his extended environment is the illimitable universe.
The world's greatest intellects are eloquent testimony to the superiority of man over existing circumstances, as many of them have come from the poorest surroundings. The sturdy plant of intellectual power has often been stimulated in its growth by the great effort made to break through uncongenial surroundings. Such men have left their mark on the world, the mark of a masterful soul and a dauntless will, and when we look abroad, and see the stunted forms, dwarfed faculties, and perverted appetites of men, we cannot help but see the need of preaching a practical gospel, a gospel that will cause men to act for themselves, and put forward efforts in the direction of self-help.
The spiritual environment of man is unseen. We only faintly realize its vast importance, and when we say "Our Father," scarce know what that term really conveys. Meditation reveals that we are the children of the Infinite, and that there is a common bond running through all hearts, and it is this that makes brotherhood an actual truth.
Yet this sphere of environment which is the most potent, is the one most ignored. It emphasizes the need for right living and pure thinking. It points to the necessity for bringing our spiritual nature into at-one-ment with the highest good. By it we realize the great chain of love connecting all, and by the opening of the heart to the sublime influence of the spiritual realm, we shall see that true civilization means spiritualization, —a harmonious adaptation to the loftiest ideals.