15 May Thought control and spiritual attainment
In this little article I have dwelt too much, perhaps, upon material achievement; but the principal reason for doing this has been that it is our duty to serve our day and generation and to be as big and useful in service as we possibly can. I do not advocate a selfish success. Our ambition should be, not how much can I get, but how much can I give, in service and in doing things for the world. Thus the success and achievement that I advocate need not be the making of money or the winning of position at all, for it may mean giving one’s life in missionary service, or other forms of self-sacrifice and devotion to one’s fellows. But no matter what our calling in life may be, the power of thought and the control of thought are of great importance. A young man may become a missionary, in spite of opposition and discouragement, simply because his mind is steadfast and his thoughts directed towards the goal of his ambition. Apparently insuperable difficulties are overcome simply through the thoughts being directed and focused upon one given object. If his mind were allowed to “wobble” and his thoughts to wander, he would never achieve his ambition.
It must be pointed out that if we pursue success wholeheartedly, it becomes in time our master. At first we find success to be a very shy bird indeed and difficult to catch. It leads us on and on, demanding ever self-sacrifice and yet more sacrifice, until at last we find ourselves committed to a life full of responsibility and of comparative importance, from which we cannot turn back or desert with decency. Then we find that success, instead of being our servant, has become our master, while we have become its slave. It is of importance then that we limit our material ambitions. There no reason, however, why we should limit our spiritual ambitions, for if we are successful in our quest of God, there is only joy awaiting us when we find that success has become our master and we its slave.
It is not generally acknowledged, that no great degree of spiritual attainment is possible without thought-control, the result of thought training. Brother Lawrence is an outstanding example of this. He is the great exponent of the practice of the Presence of God. This humble servant of God, working daily amongst his pots and pans in the kitchen and scullery of a monastery, found that by training his thoughts always to flow towards his Lord, he became conscious of His presence always. So clear was this realisation that Brother Lawrence found that he was far more conscious of the Divine presence while he was at work scouring greasy pots and pans than when in his cell for the express purpose of engaging in devotional exercises. This humble, unlearned brother became a saint (although not called one) and a teacher of many, simply through directing his thoughts towards God, and persevering, in spite of their liability to wander.
It is possible for us really to pray if we possess a measure of thought-control. We direct our attention to God and this forms a ladder by which our thoughts and affection ascend up to God. Thought-control is really a fixation of the attention upon a given object and keeping it there. So long as our attention is fixed on God, just so long will our thoughts travel up the ladder thus set up.
Those whose powers of attention and thought-control are so weak as to be almost entirely lacking should repeat prayers. This is not as good as praying oneself, but it is a beginning and a step in the right direction. One who “says” or repeats his prayers, night and morning, possesses a connecting link between himself and Heaven that others who never make any such attempt lack. But really to pray by directing the attention and thoughts toward God is a very different thing. It is a much greater thing; it is a spiritual exercise of the highest order. It is not an easy thing to do however, for until our thoughts have become disciplined they wander away. The cares of life, or its ambitions, lure our thoughts away so that we soon find ourselves thinking of things material, instead of things spiritual. Our thoughts must, of course, be brought back again and again, until a habit is set up which then makes real prayer possible.
There are many grades of real prayer. There is supplicatory prayer; there is the prayer of praise and thanksgiving; there is the prayer of meditation; there is contemplation. The last two are very advanced. They become possible only when an almost perfect degree of thought-control has been developed.
It is not only during times of prayer, however, that thought-control is needed in the pursuit and development of spiritual faculties and powers. We need it just as much during the day when engaged in the “mud and scum of things”. We too can share the experience of Brother Lawrence, who found that his work which he disliked, in the ordinary way, became enjoyable because of the Divine presence. Tasks, also, which before were difficult and beyond his powers became possible of accomplishment when once he had learnt to let the Lord help him with His presence.
By frequently turning our thoughts and aspirations to the Divine Innermost we become greatly helped and strengthened. Also, in course of time, our work which we may dislike in itself, becomes transformed and made enjoyable, through a realisation of the fact that it is a service of love to our fellows. We become conscious of a new fellowship and companionship. We are not alone, for there is One with us helping to make life a nobler thing, to become more faithful workers and servers, to do things from a higher motive.
The result of all this is that a new and finer character is built up, and this is eternal, for character can never die. And, in addition, we become entirely new creatures. We may not be religious, as generally understood, or sanctimonious, but we can become nobler, truer, finer types of men and women, for whom the world will have cause to be thankful.
The inner, or spiritual, life is a very real thing. Two people may become spiritually awakened, and through it may desire to live a nobler and higher life. One may be successful while the other may after a hard fight go back to his old life. The reason is that the former keeps alive the flame of his inner life, while the latter allows it to go out. The former perseveres with real prayer and directing his thoughts to God, raising them continually to higher and better things; while the latter neglects his praying, does not persevere in the control of his thoughts, so that his spiritual life withers away and becomes dead through lack of nourishment. Then temptation comes in like a flood and the battle is too much for one who is not fortified by prayer. He gives in and goes back again to the same old hopeless life, simply because it does not seem possible to do anything else. The fault is not that temptation is too strong but that he cuts himself off from the One Source of infinite Power through his neglect of prayer, and his lack of perseverance in thought-control.
The importance of training the thoughts to turn away from unworthy things to the things that are noble, true, beautiful and really worthwhile is so great, is it any wonder that I write books and publish a magazine on the subject?