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The Significance of Thought

We stand so nearly upon the border of the unseen world that, though prone to deny its very existence, we must commonly express the material in terms of the immaterial—as when we speak of the "weight" of a body we must express it as a measure of gravity—that is to say, in terms of force—inappreciable by the senses.

Energy is known to the senses by its effect only, and the more available the form of energy the less crude is its embodiment. In the progress of the arts we work first with that which appeals to the five senses, but through the refining action of mind we deal eventually with force direct. Now, as the efficiency of refined oil is superior to that of a tallow dip, or as gas is superior to oil, or electricity to gas—so is that subtle energy known as thought more potent than electricity.

Yesterday the vast efficiency of electricity went for nothing; today the mind has harnessed the intangible and commands the unseen. We whisper across the Atlantic; we put an ear to the ground and hear the voice of the world. The schoolboy reads of the modern miracles of Edison and of Roentgen, and dozes over the book whose simple statement would have confounded Newton. The child that rides in a trolley car, speaks through a telephone, and can prove the earth is round, passes judgment on the world that arraigned Galileo. And, wise in our day and generation, we would now stand for something incontrovertible. But no! The flood has swept the place where we stood yesterday and shall cover the ground whereon we now stand. We shall presently see that nothing is stable; that only Being is. We are working from the circumference to the center—from the seeming to the real; and from the dark caverns of the human mind the bats are flitting silently before the light. That which is ridiculed one day becomes axiomatic the next. Today we burn witches, and tomorrow attend séances. Witness, then, how relative are all things—for it is not the light we have seen, but its reflection in the myriad mirrors of the mind; and no man presents a plane mirror but such as have all degrees of curvature, both concave and convex—and all images are distorted.

The child of the future shall marvel at the reputed wisdom of this day; and as we read with incredulity of that Roman Catholic world that declared the earth was flat, so shall he read in pitying wonder of those races of men that builded great nations, possessed a vast commerce, were skilled in the arts—yet failed to perceive the significance of thought.

Men talk vaguely of the ideal and the real: one for poet and one for banker. But the ideal is the only real, and, as we shall learn, is alone practical. Let us have done with the false distinction—it is the real and the unreal that confront us. Here is a practical age, and common sense is greatly esteemed; but our common sense is oftenest nonsense. It is the uncommon sense that should be made common: the sense to perceive and hold fast the real. Stocks and bonds—a princely income—seem real and substantial; but a lack of confidence—a thought of fear—enters the minds of men, and that value, apparently so solid and enduring, vanishes into thin air. The thought alone remains. The eloquent speaker to whom we listen today is gone tomorrow; but his thought lives and bears fruit.

Thought is a living, active force; it is a mode of vibration whose rate is not yet ascertained; it is the thunderbolt of Jove, and its action is irrevocable. As we think, so are we. The condition of the body is the mathematical resultant of the parallelogram of thought forces; so is the condition of the money market; so is the world; and so is every man's life:

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage...If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him."

In the control and direction of thought lies the method of true reform, which deals with causes, not effects; it opens the way to individual emancipation and progress, and the regeneration of society shall follow, but no convention, no mass-meeting will avail; it is a question for the individual—a silent reform. It is love in the heart and corresponding thoughts in the mind that shall bring peace on earth. A little observation shows that the mind projects its thought upon the world's canvas; the canvas is nothing, but the thought merits our profound consideration.

We are "out of sorts," and all men and events appear to be at cross purposes; we are in a cheerful frame of mind, and the whole world seems to rejoice. We may trace the thought of anger or fear to its deleterious effect upon the body; its action is unfailing—and we may as surely witness the wholesome influence of benign thoughts. The prevailing thoughts and aspirations of the men and women of today shall be factors in the mental caliber, temperament, and moral status of the children of tomorrow—and the explanation of many unlooked-for proclivities. A present devotion to art, a love of the beautiful, and the worship of truth—all shall bear fruit in the coming race. Joy or despondency, purity or sensuality—whichever is propitiated shall become the fairy godmother of our children. The mothers of this day are shaping the destinies of the men of the future; and to the emancipation of women must we look for the elevation of the race. The teeming population of the globe is truly one family, and the thought and influence of each member are communicated ad infinitum. No man shall so much as in thought contribute to the degradation of woman but he weaves a dark thread in the life of races yet to be born.

This perplexing problem of disease finds its only solution in the relation that exists between mind and body. We ask ourselves why the majority of men pass out of this life through the agency of disease; why it is so exceptional to hear of a "natural death"; why so seldom a perfectly normal and sound body? And there is but one logical answer: The body is built by the mind, and it is the departure from truth—it is erroneous thinking that causes bodily imperfection and disease. Disease is not a thing in itself; it is not a "roaring lion seeking to devour," but merely a register, an indicator, of mental error. A mind perfectly controlled and directed ever upon the truth will produce a normal body and maintain it in a state of equilibrium, which is health. It is fear that is contagious, not disease; it is fear that spreads epidemics. The fearless are invulnerable.

The sweet, cool breeze that rustles the poplar leaves and comes laden with the scent of clover and new-mown hay; the gentle rain that is life to tree and flower and every blade of grass; the most microscopic and lowly form of life—in one and all is seen the possible messenger of death, invested with strange power to sweep us from the earth. We are taught that nothing is so insignificant but it may become the agent of desolation; the very elements are in conspiracy against the life of humanity. Is this God's world, then, and can these things be?

The fact is, we are still animistic in our beliefs; we are still adherents of a crude and primitive naturism that bows to malignant powers in the air and water. It has no doubt been somewhat convenient to have this scapegoat of malicious drafts and dampness and bacteria upon which to shift the responsibility of our ills—for it is a humiliating circumstance, this publishing abroad our various failings in distorted bodies: our unruly tempers and surly dispositions, our egotism and selfishness, our craven fears and our lack of equanimity and trust—but it is a convenience for which we pay dear. We are so many aborigines, with our wind devil and our rain devil; but we may no longer shirk the responsibility of our own thoughts.

Right thinking is the key to health and happiness; wrong thinking the cause of misery and disease. Herein lies the genius of the coming age—the cornerstone of modern metaphysics, which renders worthless all scholastic systems and inaugurates an era of applied and practical philosophy: a philosophy of love, which finds its application in the uplifting of human ideals, in the betterment of human conditions, and in the demonstration of the supremacy of spirit and the reign of law—an application too far-reaching, a basis too broad, to be contained within the bounds of sect or school.

In the name of religion, what crimes have not been perpetrated? She has been a Juggernaut in her demand for human victims. Nor are the days of the Inquisition yet over. There is a silent inquisition—an inquisition of pernicious dogma, whose workings are secret and unrecognized and whose dread decrees have wrought sorrow in the land. Hosts have succumbed in fear of it—of its unending and horrid hells; of the damnation of little children, the pure flowers of humanity; of a literal day of judgment, awaited in terror by the timid and sensitive. Such dogma has been in many a fair blossom the canker-worm that let it fall untimely to the ground. It is the letter that kills. The Day of Judgment shall never "come"—it is; there is a tribunal set up within every man; he is judged of his thought, and his body gives evidence whether it be of love or of fear.

The mind is a loom—incessantly weaving; and thoughts, good and true or idle and vicious, are the warp and woof of that fabric the mind weaves, and which we call our lives. Men weave side by side, nor see what the result shall be. One weaves a Cashmere shawl; another but a bit of patchwork. But all must weave, and the thread is free—be it fine or coarse, silk or cotton. To choose thread that shall be fine yet enduring, colors that shall be delicate yet bright and harmonious, designs of strength and symmetry—such is the province of the skilled weaver.

Our thoughts have grown old; we no longer run and leap. The Greek youth apes the manners of a Frenchman and lolls in the cafe; but the Parthenon stands an eloquent reminder of the days when men perceived more clearly the eternal youth of the Soul and embodied its perfection. All the world goes to copying the Venus de Milo or the Psyche of Capua, as if youth and beauty had been entombed with Phidias and Praxiteles, to rise no more.

It is recorded in the Vedas that time was when the mountains were winged and flew about; but Indra clipped their wings, whereupon the mountains settled down upon the earth while their wings remained floating above them as clouds. So the youth goes forth in the strength and vigor of a mind untrammeled, and sees that all things are for him to conquer—nor sets bounds to his winged thoughts; but presently the Indra of this world clips his wings, and the middle-aged man settles down with the weight of a mountain, anchors himself firmly by his senses, and wonders how long it will be before he shall get underground altogether.

We dwell in a world of thought. These vagrants—we know not whence they come; which is our thought and which another's? The home is sacred; we reserve the right to say who may enter and who may not. Shall it be otherwise, then, with the mind? The mind is holy; it is a temple. Alas, that it should be entered irreverently. "When thought is purified, then the Self arises;" and the mind, purged of all that is unlovely or untrue, shall radiate serenity and beneficence.

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Stanton Davis Kirkham

  • Born on December 7th, 1868 in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France and died on January 6th, 1944 in New York City.
  • Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Quoted in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

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