“ I wanted to write that, but he beat me to it,” a friend says. Soon after, another friend claims, “I had that idea before anyone else.” As I look at my own life, I see that many ideas I believed were original were actually part of a cultural shift.
The more I look at how ideas develop, the more I believe that it all comes from the same Creative Source that we call God. Ideas seem to come into being when the time is right and they often develop in multiple strains, out of multiple people’s minds, in multiple places.
At some level, we all acknowledge this. We say, “Great minds run in the same direction,” because it seems to be true. One of the best proofs that the ideas come into being when the time is right is the phenomenon of simultaneous inventions.
Thomas Edison was the inventor of motion pictures unless you are French and then you probably believe it was the Lumiere family. Some people believe that one must have stolen from the other but it is quite likely the invention occurred because it was time for it to appear.
It is now common for the Nobel Prize to be awarded to more than one scientist for simultaneous discoveries. Ideas of science, philosophy and religion can definitely have multiple origins and be very similar. The Reformation began in Germany but England’s reformation was more simultaneous development than it was Lutheran in origin.
Divine Science, which is part of New Thought, was started at the same time in Colorado and San Francisco. When Nona Brooks and Malinda Cramer met, they joined forces because they were doing the same thing at the same time. Those two women were smart enough to cooperate rather than let their egos rule them.
New Thought leaders, in general, are able to rise above their egos; they are not afraid to share ideas. They do their work and share their ideas without a lot of proprietary interest. Since we believe that it all comes from One Mind, we are grateful to be in the flow. Ego self may want to believe it is “mine” but in the light of the teaching, that can’t really be true.
Since New Thought beginnings, there were many people who wrote and taught ideas of self-reliance and mental healing and they called their movement many different names. Divine Science, Christian Science, Unity, Church of Truth and Religious Science were some that survived long enough to make the history books.
The founder of Religious Science, Ernest Holmes, wrote a very complete textbook that approached New Thought as a philosophy as well as religion. His book, Science of Mind, is filled with quotations from the Bible, RW Emerson and other Transcendentalist writers as well as many other sources . It is most impressive but he did not claim absolute originality; he was very clear that he was a synthesizer. He said his work was based on enlightened teaching of the ages.
Often, people who come to Religious Science churches for the first time, are amazed to find a religion that teaches the ideas about the nature of life that they already hold. You can believe that it is because the ideas are practical and logical or you can believe Holmes caught the wave of the next great development in the evolutionary experience of humankind.
Alcoholics Anonymous is another powerful self-help teaching that developed at about the same time as Religious Science. The ideas of AA and SOM are very similar in some ways. Both emphasize the individual’s ability to take charge of his life through small, consistent steps. They both are based on spiritual realities.
One of the reasons New Thought and Alcoholics Anonymous are similar is that they originated in the United States where we already had a strong tradition of self reliance. We do not look to the elite or powerful to tell us what to do or think, we look to our inner voice to guide us.
Many of us have found both AA and SOM to be two wonderful organizations that help us change our thinking and change our lives. The concept of living one day at a time keeps me sober and it keeps me spiritually grounded. The concept of small choices adding up to big answers keeps me consistently on track and it produces great changes in my life.
If I had been born in an earlier time, AA would not have been there. Nor would Science of Mind. They arrived on the scene in the late 1920’s and 30’s just in time to lead me into the light.
What about you? Do you know that your small choices are building your life a day at a time? Do you know that this is the day in which to happy? Next time you make your gratitude list, you might begin with the fact that you were born into these enlightened times.
I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime. Most of them have been helpful and I am filled with gratitude that I have moved into a personal belief system that allowed me to take charge of my life more completely than I originally believed was possible.
I used to think my journey was an original one but now I know I am part of a great wave of positive thinking. The fact that just about everyone knows about my two organizations doesn’t mean they are old fashioned or outdated. It means they arrived at the right time to become accepted truths for many.
Ideas about equal opportunity are simultaneously inventing themselves in our lives right now. The possibility thinking that is personal is also cultural and it is spreading. As a woman, I am very aware of the difference in opportunity fifty years ago and today. I am grateful for the changes that have already happened and the ones that are coming.
Equality of opportunity is springing up in many places. This is an idea whose time has come. Look around at the various groups who are speaking up about their civil and personal rights. Gay rights. Minority rights. Immigrant rights. Native American rights. Disabled people’s rights. 99% rights. Prisoner’s rights.
It’s all right.
What small choices shall I make today?
Do I see myself as unlimited opportunity?
“Imagine what it must have been like to ride the trains like those early women did,”my ministerial student says. “They were very brave and it makes me feel special to be a part of that history”.
As she speaks, I can feel myself beginning to glow with pleasure. After all, any history teacher wants her students to appreciate the past, and I believe New Thought history and its connection to the rise of women’s rights is especially relevant.
My interest in the role of women in New Thought history goes all the way back more than twenty years when I was training to be a minister. In those days, we had to write a thesis and mine was on Women and New Thought.
We also had to give a public lecture on our subject. I talked about women’s lives in the 1880’s and how difficult it was just to get dinner on the table and get the weekly washing done. Housework was a full time job for most women but there were many, including well-known figures such as Emma Curtis Hopkins and others, who chose to be practitioners and teachers of New Thought.
Those early practitioners and teachers were often widowed or divorced and they struck out on their own, riding trains from town to town and staying in boarding houses while they taught. Some of them, like Hopkins, started schools that were fairly big establishments but most were doing small works in small towns, spreading the word to small groups.
During the years of my ministry, I have done more research on the early women in New Thought and written the book, New Thought, New Woman.
One of the great strengths of our religion is that we describe God as the Creative Energy of the Universe. Our founder, Ernest Holmes and the other New Thought writers use many names for God including; Universal Mind, First Cause, Divine Mind, Infinite Mind, Divine Givingness … and the list goes on.
We sometimes use the word God but we never intend it to describe an Old Man who lives in the sky and looks down upon us, judging what is right and wrong. We do not believe that God is male and that men are the natural leaders of churches.
Our understanding of God is not a human-like figure, it is much grander and without gender. In that way, we were like the Quakers, who also allowed women to speak in meeting (church) because they believe the Inner Light lives in all persons and that Light guides us.
How could we say that only men can be ministers if we believe that God creates us all and lives everywhere including within us? If God is present everywhere all of the time then we must acknowledge that women should have an equal voice in the pulpit.
The fact that God has no gender is probably the major reason so many women were so important to the New Thought movement from the very beginning. The founders of Divine Science were women. The founders of Unity were a married couple. The first president of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) was a woman.
There were many important New Thought writers and some of them are still quite well known. Ella Wheeler Wilcox is no longer considered a great poet but her verse is still taught in poetry classes. Do you know her most famous lines from the poem Solitude? Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep and you weep alone.
Most writers have faded from our current lists but not all of them. The Game of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovell Shin is still in most New Thought bookstores. So is, Emilie Cady’s Lessons In Truth.
Emma Curtis Hopkins, often called the “Teacher of Teachers” is definitely better known now than she was twenty-five years ago. There are new classes based on her old books. She not only taught the founders of the surviving New Thought denominations, she wrote several books and influenced famous people in the arts. In her lifetime, she spoke to and taught thousands of people.
The other factor in the importance of women in New Thought is that the women’s movement was rising at the same time New Thought was developing into a distinct denomination. In the 1880’s through the turn of the Century, women were on the march. They were interested in a variety of causes. Those movements included women’s right to vote, abolishing alcohol consumption, rational clothing (remember Amelia Bloomer?) public hygiene, prison reform, and helping poor people.
Some New Thought leaders were also interested in more than one of these subjects. Others reserved all their energy for healing and teaching endeavors. However, the important thing to know about this period in history is that women were beginning to be much more active outside the home. For the first time, they were in the public forum as lecturers, writers and teachers.
The New Thought teaching was something that was open to them as a way to earn a living and they took advantage of that fact. Many of the travelling practitioners and teachers were widowed or divorced women. Additionally, women were accustomed to healing and teaching work and they simply expanded their techniques and boundaries as time and women marched onward.
What have I done that took courage?
What might I do today?
What does New Thought history have to do with my life?