What Makes Us Change?


I am reading a memoir my friend wrote and I am amazed. She started her life with nothing. She was born in desperate poverty with harrowing early experiences and absolutely no encouragement, yet she changed. My friend is delightful, successful, pretty, funny, and has excellent finances. What gave her the idea she could change?

I taught in the bottom track of a six track school in Trenton, New Jersey in the 1960’s. School was hell for those kids and I had a lot to learn. The kids were tolerant of my ignorance most of the time because I was honest and meant well.

Part of what I learned was that many children grow up in a culture where the TV and shop windows may show wealth but no one they actually know has any money. Nor do they have any hope.

These kids in remedial classes found the schoolwork boring and difficult and they came for the two cent peanut butter & crackers, the warm classrooms and their friend’s companionship. They didn’t come because they believed in the “American Dream.”  But once in a while, some kid caught fire and zoomed ahead.

I remember a kid called Billy who gained four grade levels in reading in one semester. He wasn’t faking; he really applied himself and learned to read. It seemed as if he was as hopeless as the others, then suddenly he was working part time and reading books.

Billy told me once he was going to make something of his life and he knew it would cost him. That was back in the Sixties in the early days of the “War on Poverty” and few of us understood how the culture of poverty keeps people down but Billy understood.

Families and friends offer love but they also hold you back. Just about the time you have the money saved for trade school, someone needs it for medicine or food.  Or someone steals it, but you can’t turn him in because he’s family.

We have learned much since then and today’s sociologists and educators are more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the question of why some people change remains a mystery. Are people born with luck? Does God reach down in a moment of Grace and lift us up?

There are plenty of dramatic success stories out there. AA rooms are full of them. So are college campuses where scholarship students make it. Our bookshelves are lined with stories from people who “made it” in America. If you dig a little, there seems to always be a component of spiritual awakening in those stories.

New Thought teaches that everyone comes from Spirit and is, at the level of Spirit, perfect, whole and complete. No matter what our circumstances are, God that lives within us, and is pressing to express more of our innate perfection, wholeness and completeness. We awaken when we open to Spirit.

These spiritual ideas have become much more public since the Sixties. The body-mind connection is accepted in medicine. Teachers work hard to inspire students. Oprah has introduced our New Thought ideas to the general public.

Oprah now has her own TV network and one of her hosts, Iyanla Vanzant also has a show. Iyanla’s life, like Oprah’s, inspires us because it demonstrates God’s promise of good when we open up.

Iyanla was born female and black, in the back of a Brooklyn taxicab more than fifty years ago. Her mother died when she was two, she was raped by an uncle when she was nine, and she had three children by the age of 21.

With such a beginning, she might be in jail or a mental institution but she knew she was better than the facts of her life. She fled a violent marriage and survived well enough to earn a law degree and work in the Philadelphia public defender’s office for several years.

At some point she changed her name from Rhonda Hams to Iyanla Vanzant. She chose her name, Iyanla because it meant “Great Mother” in the Yoruba religion. Her name change was a declaration of intention to identify with the great nurturing “mother spirit” of God.

So she had intention and she must have known how to pray because she said, “Prayer changed me.” Please note that she didn’t say, “Prayer changed the facts” but, “Prayer changed me”.

She went on to say, It changed my life from a place of dysfunction and pain to a place of clarity and purpose. It changed me from angry and frightened to full and available. Prayer changed my life.

…When you really fill your heart and your mind with the words of a prayer, the hysteria subsides, and once the hysteria subsides, the mind is clear, and when the mind is clear, you send forth, positive energy into the universe or into the presence of life that’s everywhere.

When the energy of a clear mind goes out and hits the actual living form or living substance, things shift, things are created, things are transformed, and you’re able to see and accept it because you’re praying.

She could be a Religious Science practitioner if she weren’t a Yoruba Priestess, couldn’t she? She said, “Prayer changed me.” She knows that we don’t pray to change God but to open our own consciousness to more and better. She knows that a changed consciousness creates new experiences.

Iyanla’s a perfect example of what life looks like when you release limited belief systems. Of course, she’s a special example because she has many best selling books and a talk show. But prayer works for everyone. When you pray, Spirit will change you as well.

As my student Billy knew, we must give up something to get something better. If we want to change we must we must release the old beliefs so we make room for the new.

Some people go to great lengths to hold onto to what they believe and they say, “Well, God had a special plan for Iyanla (or Billy or Oprah.)” God’s special plan was that she should express Life fully. That is also God’s special plan for you.

Unless we are alert, we will not change. We all live in a kind of culture of poverty when it comes to ideas. Let’s not resist our own good by denying that change is only possible for the lucky. We aren’t stuck. The Great Mother is always  loving us, supporting us, and saying yes to our prevailing beliefs. Love works through Law and it works for everyone.

When Hilary Swank accepted her second Oscar, she said, “I’m just a girl from a trailer park” and some cynical people made fun of her. But she really was just a girl from a trailer park who had a clear intention. The facts didn’t matter enough to stop her. She believed in herself enough to come to Hollywood and live in her car until she got a break.

How much do you believe in yourself? Are you ready to let the facts go? Are you ready to release old beliefs that no longer serve you? Are you ready to have the Great Mother say yes to your deepest desires?

Ask Yourself

What do I want?

What might be my new name?

What n belief am I willing to change ?

Shall I pray to change myself? 


An Agreeable Spiritual Practice

I am watching an Oprah program and Bishop TD Jakes is talking about finding your life purpose and pursuing it. He seems to think that having an aim is the solution to all of life’s problems. While that’s a great pro-active attitude, I’m not certain anything is that simple. However, after watching for almost an hour, I realize I agree with Bishop Jakes almost completely.

         Bishop Jakes is a hugely popular black preacher from a traditional background. As he and Oprah talked, I heard not one word about sin, hell, the devil, or any of the other concepts that drove me away from my first church’s teaching. At least in that conversation, he seemed to be completely about hope and love.

I love that and I hope that his message of love and hope is as consistent as it seemed.  I don’t have enough information to make an absolute judgment but he sure looks like the real deal. Isn’t that wonderful?

Many of the things he said seemed to be right out of a Science of Mind lecture. He talked about releasing the past, being self-directed and following your inner promptings. I am happy to hope that these ideas are replacing the old stories of sin, punishment and so forth.

Despite their fundamentalism, black churches have always had an emphasis on forgiveness, community, redemption and living together despite human frailties. From slave days, they have been social, political, educational and spiritual institutions. While some of those needs have dissipated over the past fifty years, there is still loyalty at work. We continue to more segregated on Sunday at 11 AM than any time of the week.

New Thought thinkers, along with Quakers and Unitarians, have always been an exception to the color barriers. We have always welcomed people of all colors and all religious heritages and they do attend and participate. The Carlsbad church has always been proud to have people of color and several religious backgrounds since its beginning. That is typical.

New Thought has also had strong black leaders who founded churches that were open to anyone but were predominantly black. Dr. Barbara King of Atlanta, Dr. Johnnie Coleman of Chicago, Dr. Daniel L. Morgan of the Guidance Church in Los Angeles were three very prominent New Thought leaders who had large, mostly black churches, at least  since the Sixties.

Dr. Michael Beckwith of West Los Angeles was the first to blast out of that historical mold and attract a truly urban mix of people. His church was always different from his those of his predecessors.

I believe that Dr. Michael is the harbinger of things to come for our denomination. There is a wonderful openness in our churches that is in the teaching itself and it extends to our spiritual communities. Dr. Michael’s celebrity status, now that he has been on Oprah so many times has, no doubt, opened a lot of people up to the joys of positive living based on spiritual truth.

I have always believed that black churches had more in common with New Thought thinking than most of the other fundamentalist groups. We both are very big on living in the present and releasing the past as well as believing in redemption – or the ability to release the past and change for the better. Rev. Vivien Nexon, who is an activist in prison ministries, said in a recent interview… I do have a basic core belief in the process of redemption. I believe that any deity that anybody serves is a forgiving and graceful being.

 There is resonance here. I hope Bishop Jakes and Rev. Nixon are  the harbingers of things to come in the traditional churches. I hope they are all moving away from stories of sin and eternal punishment into inner-directed questions such as, What do I believe? Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose?

As we celebrate our religious and social diversity in this nation, we need to remember that we are more alike than we are different. All you have to do is live somewhere outside the US or Canada for a while and you will see that you have more in common with your compatriots, despite their ethnic or religious background, than you do with people from other places.

Shared values of optimism, belief in possibility, an ingrained sense of self-reliance and self-trust are a strong part of our heritage. When we talk about the individual’s right and ability to change, there is nowhere in the world that people believe in that concept the way they do right here at home.

Ask any North American if he thinks people can change and the answer will be yes. Sometimes it will be a qualified yes but basically, we believe that an individual has the ability and right to move from one social class to another, the right to scale economic ladders and the right to determine his own destiny.

We find many truths – such a woman’s right to drive a car or a child’s right to food and shelter or an adult’s right to choose his own church (or not) to be self-evident. We were founded on the idea of individual freedom and self-reliance and we really do believe in it.

I am always hearing how much more religious we are than our European counterpoints. That’s true and it looks to me as though we are releasing a lot of dogma. I don’t hear much of the old nonsensical notions about good and evil. I get many fewer questions about how to talk with people’s born-again relatives.

I hope the literal interpretation of the Bible is less prevalent.  Despite the peculiar notions we see expressed on TV about same sex marriage and corporal punishment in the schools I believe the general population is saner than it was 20 years ago. Talk about evolution being a myth appears to be quieting down.  So does the idea that the devil might win the war of good and evil. Are things saner? What do you think?

I think they are, although we have a long way to go on a woman’s right to choose and same sex marriage equality. But even on these hot button issues, most people don’t seem so certain the other guy’s ideas will send him to hell. A lot of us do not even believe in hell (except the one we create for ourselves here on Planet Earth).

What we do seem to believe in is creating a good life for ourselves and helping others. Is that a religious belief? I think so. Is that a belief that you, I, Bishop Jakes, Dr. Beckwith and the President of the United States can agree to believe in? Certainly.

Perhaps we are on our way to a national religion and perhaps it has many names but will surely contain a healthy dose of positive, spiritual living.

Ask yourself

What do you believe?

Who are you?

What do you want?

What is your purpose?

Words In Action

 Setting = two women seated, holding phones, many miles from each other. Herman lies sick on couch, close to Ella.

Herman to Ella, “Ask her to pray for me.”

Ella says to Herman, “She doesn’t pray, she treats.”

On phone, I say, “Oh no, now we are more inclusive and I use the word pray.”

Ella to Herman, “OK, she’ll pray for you.”

Herman, “I’d rather have a treatment.”

I respond, “OK, I’ll treat. “

         Words don’t matter to the Creative Energy of the Universe which we call, God, Higher Power, Infinite Mind, Universal Truth and so on. But when the patient is listening to the practitioner, the word treatment may sound more powerful or special than prayer. Or it may just sound weird.

The early New Thought practitioners were clear that their work was like a doctor’s visit and since their treatments were about health issues, it made sense to them to call what they did treatment. Later, the teaching expanded to an understanding that what worked for health could also work for wealth and relationships and many other issues. As time went on, the word treatment seemed more and more old fashioned.

It seems as though every group has a new vocabulary that has to be learned before we can fully join in the fun. We call this jargon. The government is ridiculed for its use of jargon. So is the business world but all groups are subject to this affliction, no matter how well meaning they are. New Thought uses a lot of jargon.

I remember when I joined the League of Women Voters they had a whole level of jargon that I’d never dreamed of. Such nice ladies who wanted to bring in women from the “lower classes” didn’t understand how jargon might be a barrier.

Sometimes the language a group uses seems mysterious or threatening. It definitely feels as though it is designed to keep some people out.

As a 7th grade schoolteacher, I watched kids’ language change yearly. At one time, bad meant good and rad which was short for radical which meant exciting. I have no idea how teens are talking today. I’m long retired from 7th grade and my idea of dialog would sound as old-fashioned as the bee’s knees.

Recently, leaders of New Thought have been making an effort to make sure their language is clear to the public and that it sounds non-threatening and non-mysterious. We want to invite the world into our teaching so we have dropped the word science from our name and dropped treatment in favor of prayer. It makes sense although I am an old timer and I miss the “bee’s knees” of my beginnings.

New Thought ideas began to go mainstream quite a while ago. When Louise Hay wrote her book, You Can Heal Your Life, she used language that brought New Thought beliefs  to a whole new group of “unchurched” gay men who needed it. Louise is one of my heroes.

It took the secular teachers like Wayne Dyer and  Oprah to really open up the positive thinking ideas to people who weren’t churchgoers and they have done the world a terrific service. Everywhere I go, I hear ideas expressed that tout the power of positive thinking.

There is more to this teaching than positive thinking or using affirmations to lift your spirits. The original intent of the early practitioners was to heal the sick as Jesus did. They don’t frame their language that way anymore but that is still what practitioners are doing. You can find licensed practitioners in any Center For Spiritual Living church.

We CSL practitioners don’t think we are all of God or reincarnations of Jesus. We do believe in mental (or spiritual) healing. We know that God lives in all of us as perfection and that perfection is revealed through a process of affirmative prayer. Unlike some other denominations, we do not replace medical science but we work with it. We believe that all knowledge is God-given.

The knowledge we have is available to any sincere person. In our centers, we teach people to go several steps beyond the basic idea that cheerful people are happier, healthier and live longer. We teach people how to access the Creative Energy of the Universe and how to use it in their lives.

We use systematic prayer as steps to realization of the healing and this can be taught to those who are open to learning. You have heard that expression, Change your thinking and change your life. You can learn to use prayer to do exactly that.

Not everyone can be a practitioner who works for the betterment of others but everyone can learn how to pray effectively for themselves.

I cannot stress this more. If you want to learn how to create a better life for yourself, there are excellent classes for you in CSL centers. You can now also take the basic Science of Mind classes online and that is a great step forward. You can also get a great deal from reading.

However, I believe an organized class in your area is the best way to learn this effective prayer technique. You have the benefit of a qualified teacher and a supportive group. You have a chance to clarify and express your thoughts with guidance.

In the classroom, you can ask questions. Your teacher can ask you questions and lead you to understanding. Modern inventions are fine but there is nothing better than the learning system developed by Socrates 2500 years ago.

Check out the Center for Spiritual Living Centers in your area for classes. Whether they use the word prayer or treatment, I’m certain you will be delighted with the outcome of your search.

Ask Yourself

Do I believe in spiritual healing?

Is there a way I can enroll in classes now?