The Power of Thought
It’s often believed that thoughts don’t have any power. How could they? They’re not material. They don’t have any effects in the physical world.
But thoughts can be very powerful indeed. After all, ideas are thoughts, including such ideas as freedom, justice, and equality. Many people have been willing to fight and die for these ideas.
Here’s another example. Every Christmas somebody usually reprints an old editorial—originally published in 1897—which answers a little girl who asks whether Santa Claus is real. The reply, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” has become a classic. Today both the editor who wrote this piece and the little girl who wrote the question are long gone. But Santa Claus is still around—as a thought in the minds of people the world over.
In fact, a thought that is held by many people can be extraordinarily, sometimes frighteningly powerful, even when it is not true. The twentieth century offers many examples, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat and racial supremacy, which were the dominant ideas of communism and Nazism respectively.
Sometimes, too, an individual thought can have power. Take a moment to imagine a green lion. You can do this easily, even though we all know that green lions don’t exist. But does it exist as a thought?
Let’s take the idea a step further. Say you’re a cartoonist, and the idea of a green lion intrigues you. You keep coming back to it, making sketches, and creating a cartoon character that’s a green lion. You even think up other characters for the lion to interact with. Soon you have a whole animated cartoon centered around this green lion. You sell it to Hollywood.
So it turns out that you have made millions of dollars out of something that, as we have already agreed, doesn’t exist.
At the same time, most people don’t make much use of their thought power. Thoughts come in and out of their minds, almost at random. If you have a thought that makes you happy, you feel happy. If you have a thought that makes you sad, you feel sad.
So in everyday life it seems that we don’t control our thoughts. They control us.
Recognizing this fact is the first step to gaining thought power.
A woman once had to teach her dog to stop barking. She found that in order to do this, she first had to teach it that it was barking.
The first lesson in thought power is somewhat similar. It’s best learned by means of a simple exercise.
Sit in a comfortable but alert position. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, slowly let them out, and then allow your breath to move naturally, without trying to control it.
Now bring your attention to your thoughts. If you like, you can envision them as images passing in front of you on a screen—as if you’re watching a movie in a dark theater. Don’t try to control or change the thoughts: just allow them to come up as they will, note them, and let them pass, to be replaced by others in their turn.
You can do this practice for as long as you like, but even five or ten minutes will be enough.
Now you have learned that you can watch your thoughts; you can look at them almost as if they were happening to someone else. So, then, where are you?
You are not the thoughts, because you are watching them as if from a distance. Then who or what is doing the watching?
This is actually a profound question, and exploring it is almost a spiritual path in its own right. But for our purposes all you need to know is that you are not your thoughts.
This is an extremely important insight. It is the first step in beginning to exercise thought power. You are not your thoughts. Furthermore, they do not control you—or at any rate they don’t have to. You can control them if you choose.
Controlling your thoughts is a great accomplishment and can give you much power. Like all great accomplishments, it starts with small steps. If you’re interesting in trying this process, it would be helpful if you did the exercise above at least once a day—again, five to ten minutes is fine, although you can do it longer if it doesn’t cause you any strain.
The next step is to start noticing your thoughts throughout the day. Let’s begin by working with negative thoughts. Most people have these regularly and continually. Notice the ones that are about you: “I’m no good.” “I can’t do anything right.” “Nobody loves me.” “Nothing ever works out for me.” And so on.
You will soon notice that these thoughts often come automatically. You make a mistake, you offend someone, and these thoughts come up like punishers to make you feel bad. Although it’s important to acknowledge when we’ve hurt or offended someone—and to make it right if possible—often we beat ourselves up for such things years afterward. This serves no positive purpose whatsoever.
So the first thing to do with these thoughts is to consciously let them go. For example, you can say to yourself, “I do not choose that thought.” Or, if the thought comes with a visual image, you can mentally draw a big black X over the image to cross it out in your mind.
The next step is to replace it with a positive thought: “I’m a good person.” “I always try my best.” “I’m really loyal.” “I’m a good mother.”
When you’re doing this, make sure that the positive thoughts are things you actually believe about yourself. You are stating something positive, and it’s also the truth. You are replacing a negative thought with a true, positive thought.
There are many books and courses out there that try to use thought power in a somewhat different way. They say that you can say things like, “I’m a millionaire,” “I’m incredibly successful in business.” Supposedly your subconscious mind will magically make these things come true.
This isn’t really the case. You’re not telling the truth here: you’re not a millionaire, and you know it. Your subconscious mind is not stupid, and it knows when you’re lying to it. Affirmations of this kind thus tend not to work. They have an additional disadvantage because they pit one part of your mind against another, creating a kind of psychological split. You will probably find this split upsetting to one extent or another. It is far more helpful to affirm positive thoughts that you truly believe.
Another step in this process involves sending positive thoughts to others. You can do this simply by intentionally invoking thoughts and mentally sending them to someone else. Even a single word will be enough: love, peace, blessings, and so on. You can do this with people you know and care for, or you can do it with strangers—even with public figures.
Sending positive thoughts this way does have real and important consequences. But it’s just as well not to look for any direct results from the process. Nor is it a good idea to use it to try to manipulate others—sending thoughts of love to someone else as a means of getting them to do something that you want. Using thoughts this way generally backfires on the person sending out the message, and if you try it, you will usually get your fingers burned in one way or another.
You may notice that we have been talking about thoughts almost as if they were objects in the physical world. In a way this is correct. They are objects—but you can’t see them with your physical eyes. They exist in another realm, which Theosophy calls the astral and mental realms. These are worlds in their own right, just like the physical world, and like the physical world they have their own laws and properties. You see them with the mind’s eye.
One thing that Theosophists do is study these other worlds, both in theory—by reading and discussions and so on—and in practice, by applying these ideas in daily life, as we have suggested doing above.
There are many more dimensions to the notion of thought power, and you can explore it much further. (One especially useful book is Thought Power, by Annie Besant, late president of the Theosophical Society.) It’s not only helpful but vital to seek out this knowledge, because we are studying ourselves. It is a fulfillment of the ancient Greek maxim “Know thyself.”
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Finding the Quiet Mind by Robert Ellwood
The Personal Aura by Dora Kunz
The Reality of ESP by Russell Targ
Thought Forms by Charles Leadbeater
Thought Power by Annie Besant
These books may be purchased online at www.questbooks.com