Recently popularized by films such as What The Bleep and The Secret, changing your reality by changing your thoughts has never been so much in vogue, or so needed to be examined.
I'VE KNOWN JOHN for about 11 year now. He is a tall, thick-set man with a trigger-happy smile and the satisfied look of a man who feels fulfilled in every area of his life. John, in his own words, has the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect wife, the perfect house and goes on perfect vacations. In fact, almost every aspect of John's life is … well … perfect. But it wasn't always this way: In the early nineties when I first met him, you would have been hard-pressed to find a smile on John's face, or money in his pocket. For John was mostly unemployed, always in debt, living alone and 3 stone overweight. What happened to change John's life around? In his own words, "I took responsibility for the reality that I was manifesting."
Reality creation is something that has become a central dictum of the New Age movement and a feature of popular films like "What The Bleep" and "The Secret". The first person in the New Age movement to explicitly state that the mind manufactures reality was probably channel, Jane Roberts, in the Seth books, and since then, you will be hard-pressed to find a New Age author/teacher that does not espouse this belief. In fact, you could well define the New Age movement itself (which is now inseparable from the personal development movement) as "the religion of reality makers" — individuals who believe that the goal of life is using the mind to manifest more and more of what they want.
The new spiritual explosion that is taking place in Western societies encompasses much more than just the core New Age movement, although, confusingly, the term New Age is often used to blanket label everything culturally new that is taking place in Western society. Today, Reality Makers rub shoulders with with Buddhists, Pagans, Shamans, Spiritualists, Kabalists, New Age Christians, Pantheists, Hindus, Sufists and many other new spiritual sects, each vying for our attention and allegiance. In the last few years, it seems that the Reality Makers are now taking centre stage with the release of films like What The Bleep and The Secret, which act as massive recruitment campaigns. More and more of us are attracted to the promise of being able to create our own reality and fulfil our dreams and desires, something that feels like a breath of fresh air in a society becoming increasingly restrictive and controlling.
Whilst reality creation is certainly a useful and powerful tool in personal development, is it spirituality? Does it have anything to do with helping us along the path to authenticity, which is probably the best concise definitions of spirituality's essence. And if it can be defined as a spiritual path, why do the central tenets of reality creation, which we will examine later in this article, seem to completely contradict that of other spiritual paths?
To help us see what is going on, we need to divide the new spiritual movement that is taking place into three broad categories or types:
Type 1: Those who believe that we simply create our realities with our everyday thoughts and that we can have everything we want. This belief throws out any idea of objective reality and is generally associated with the New Age and personal development movements, pseudo quantum physics, visualisation, fun and quick gratification. The focus is "me".
Type 2: Those who believe we must let go trying to change reality and ourselves, even for the better, as these are both products of egotism or positionality, which is regarded as the main obstacle to authenticity. This belief is not concerned about the objectivity of reality but focuses inward on the true self. Type 2 is associated with Buddhist and Zen spiritual practice/philosophy, empty-mind meditation and a lifetime of dedicated and often challenging practice. The focus is "self".
Type 3: Those who both accept the objectivity to a shared reality or realities (dimensions) "out there" and whose spiritual practice is associated with relating — to other beings, to spirits, to archetypes and to Nature. Spirituality here is usually interwoven with a keen sense of ecology and and the reverence for Nature and concern for its integrity. This belief is associated with the shamanic, ecological, pagan, spiritualist and Jungian movements, as well as traditional theistic religions. Spiritual growth is regarded as a life-long process of forming ties with the other, especially non-physical beings. The focus is interrelationship — self in relation to others (humans, animals, plants and spirits).
These categories have only been suggested for the purpose of this article, and in no way should they be taken as definitive. Individuals can and often do fall into more than one category, and many other category systems exist. But this particular categorization is useful because it allows us to see the huge ideological splits that pervade the New Spiritual and New Age (used in the broader sense) movements, something that few seem to be directly addressing, probably because in a New Spiritual culture of tolerance, nobody wants to appear critical.
Back to my friend John. Now that he is making good money, John has finally managed to get the car of his dreams — a spanking new Porsche 911. I've been a ride in it and I can tell you that its 4.4 second 0-60 acceleration literally takes your breath away. But I am not altogether comfortable with John's reality creation. "What about the environment, John. This thing must be burning fuel like there's no tomorrow." Unhesitatingly, John shoots back, "Ecological destruction and oil limitation is not part of my reality. All limitation is a limitation of mind, not a limitation of resources." What do you say to someone this deep in solipsism? I remain silent.
John's reply reminds me of James Watt's (Reagan's first secretary of the interior) justification to the US Congress that protecting natural resources was not a concern because, as he stated in a public testimony, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." Watt's focus on God is the same as my friend John's focus on reality creation: both regard themselves as beyond ecological limiting factors by virtue of their spiritual beliefs. For John, it is because his personal power and desires are greater and more important than any environmental considerations or limitations; for Watt, it is because Jesus is greater than these.
The film The Secret portrays a world of infinite abundance, making no mention of the "realities" of global warming, pollution, deforestation and soil erosion. The world is there for our fun, our enjoyment and our exploitation, and if we want that gas-guzzling sports car, we need only visualize it and the universe will give it to us. What most people in this Type 1 spiritual category would be thinking is that the ecological mess that the world is in today is not caused by pollution, but directly by polluted thinking. So even if they personally drive around in a vehicle with high fuel consumption, they are not contributing to the problem because ecological destruction is not part of their thought processes. In fact, they believe themselves to be part of the solution because of their unlimited thinking, irrespective of what is spewing out their twin exhausts.
The problem with this perspective is that if they are wrong, if ecological destruction does have a significant level of objectivity, a belief in mental reality creation that ignores ecology will speed the Earth's demise. The question is, is that a risk worth taking? Put like this, it clearly is not a risk worth taking. But look at it from the other perspective: if the reality "out there" literally springs from our collective mind, then all notion of a fragile and finite ecosystem is a self-fulfilling prophesy. In this circumstance, it would be our duty to individually and collectively believe (and therefore behave) as if resources were limitless. This position is not a strong one, however, because long before the ecology movement started the belief in limitless resources was universal and yet resources still dwindled and ecosystems still became damaged. Historically, the ecology movement was sparked by concern about dwindling resources and ecological destruction, and not the other way around. This would imply that there is probably some level of objectivity to reality "out there" — an objectivity that binds our destinies together (without some level of limitation, we cannot relate to each other because nothing outside can check our own thought processes).
And that is what objectivity does … it binds us together. We share an experience and have to bounce off one another. Without objectivity, each of us is adrift on our own sea of mental creations, learning nothing more than better methods to express and fulfil our own desires. Objective realms give us the opportunity to see things from the perspective of another — to learn love, compassion and humility. Perhaps this is why we need to share a basic "objective" reality: without its bridging ability, we don't grow, our wisdom does not deepen and our compassion atrophies. Objectivity allows us to see another as another, and not just selfishly as an extension of ourselves.
Those who follow Type 1 spirituality — the "I create my own reality" believers — are notoriously egotistical and self-obsessed. Many are narcissists either because Type 1 beliefs attract narcissists, or because these beliefs engender narcissism by encouraging a perspective in which every aspect of what is "out there" is regarded as a reflection of the self — the ego. The purpose of life becomes the manifestation of a reality congruent to the ego's desires and demands. The "I" in "I create my own reality" is the ego, nothing else.
This is not to to say that reality creation is a load of hocus-pocus. It works, it really does. I have personally experienced the power of manifestation through visualization and focus many many times. The net-sum of what we think and feel does seem to affect the reality we experience. If you are a person who does not accept that mind can influence matter, at the very least you have to admit what you think and feel will psychologically prepare you to take appropriate action and define how others will treat you. And, of course, this is reinforced by the mind itself because it starts to select evidence and experience for reality creation. If, on the other hand, you are a person who does accept that mind can directly influence matter (and there is good scientific evidence for this if you are the type who needs scientific evidence — read Dean Radin's book The Conscious Universe) then the net-sum of what you think and feel could well have a direct creative influence on your reality. (I have personally experienced some phenomenal reality creation that cannot be explained by the first psychological perspective.)
However, just because our minds create our realities does not mean that we need to make this a central pillar of our spirituality. Reality creation is merely a reflection of our multi-dimensional embeddedness in reality. When you are intimately connected to All-That-Is, is it so surprising that what we think influences everything else? After all, the mind-body or mind-matter separation is historically merely a philosophical proposition put forward, with no evidence, by a confused Frenchman called Descartes, a proposition that only became a foundation stone of modern science because objectification offers simplification to minds unwilling to grasp the complexity of experience. (And whilst the relatively new science of quantum physics has hinted that mind and matter may be furtive bed-fellows, most working scientists would dismiss this aspect of modern physics as mere philosophical musings, whilst tenaciously holding on to their own philosophical musings of a mind-matter separation.)
So our the unity of mind/body coupled with our embeddedness in reality means that our minds affect our world, and of course our world affects our minds. But again: is this spirituality?
Forget the mind for now, lets look at the body. We walk to the fridge to get a cold drink or go to a party to meet other people, or put ourselves in a particular social setting so that we are more likely to land that perfect job or deal. So by moving the body with a certain consistent intention we can also get what we want, provided we are persistent. The body directly affects reality as well. But if we were to create a spirituality or religion whose central tenet is to physically go out and get what we want, people would laugh. That is obviously not spirituality, this is just getting what we want, period. So why should it be different for the mind? How can "creating our own reality" with the mind be the foundation of spirituality, when it is entirely equivalent to us merely going out and getting what we want physically?
From this perspective, reality creation is merely a tool that we use in the same way that the body is a tool that we use. We can use our hands and arms to heal someone, for example, or to kill them. The tool itself has little to do with integrity or spirituality. Everyone, whether a saint or a murderer, goes out into the world and uses their body according to their integrity. And everyone, regardless of their spiritual development, is creating their reality. Some may even be doing it consciously some of the time, but this does not automatically imply that this person is spiritually evolved, just as someone who goes out and uses his or her physical body in an expert way is not necessarily spiritually evolved. So reality creation is merely us having an effect on our environment, on our reality. Only the way the tool is used says something about the integrity of the user. But a tool of acquisition like this is not enough to be the foundation or focus of a spiritual practice.
Perhaps the spirituality of reality creators is not actually in the belief and ability to create reality with the mind per se, but in this belief's underlying assumption that mind, body and spirit are one — that the separation of spirit/mind and matter is an illusion. Now this is a more recognizable spiritual assumption. It implies a pantheistic outlook. However, for most Reality Makers the ability and practice of mental reality creation is confused with spirituality. And by making the satisfaction of desires the central "spiritual" practice, this category of New Spirituality could actually be counter-productive: we all know that desires and wants are endless, and their satisfaction only brings further desires and wants in a perpetual cycle of grasping for more. We all want to ultimately be happy, but we have to understand that happiness is an intrinsic quality akin to attitude, rather than the satisfaction of desires. True happiness is independent to circumstance. In fact, we all know that getting what is most certainly no guarantee of happiness (some would say it is a surefire method of finding unhappiness).
So my friend John, in the example above, is excited the whole time because he feels he can manifest everything. His excitement is like that of a child in a toyshop told that she can have anything that she wants … anything! But sooner or later that child will undoubtedly grow weary and want something more real, just as John will. And that is where Type 2 and Type 3 spirituality come in. If John is more of an introvert, he may choose Type 2, and make the uncovering of the authentic self his spiritual goal. If John is more extrovert and outgoing, he may choose Type 3, and start to work on authentic relationships with others (both physical and non-physical beings). Maybe he will do a bit of both. But he most certainly will be called to move beyond the narcissism and hubris of his obsession with what reality creation can do for him, on to a path of service to others either through empty self or relationship. And that is not to say that he will give up reality creation — far from it — but it will no longer be his raison d'etre and will no longer be used solely for self-satisfaction. Instead, it will just become another tool that he will use, like a refined version of the body, to make deeper and more subtle changes to the world etc.
From this perspective, Type 1 spiritual beliefs are not actually spiritual beliefs at all, but methods of self-satisfaction. However, it does encourage us to look deeper at our multidimensional connectedness to All-That-Is and the unity of mind and matter, and in this way it provides a good spiritual start for those less inclined to authenticity. And as Western society revolves around instant satisfaction of desires (mostly material), Type 1 "spirituality" certainly has a wide appeal, bringing multitudes of consumers to the threshold of true spiritual awakening. But it is a two-edged sword: if adherents stay at this level of desire-satisfaction too long, Type 1 practice will end up being counter-productive because in the long-run it only encourages narcissism, inauthenticity and a disregard for others. Fortunately, however, most of us grow tied of self-satisfaction and move on to Type 2 and/or Type 3 spirituality, which is not as easy, chic, fun or instant as Type 1. Here, we actually have to do real spiritual work on ourselves and our relationships, and that work is unfortunately not always enjoyable.
For example, I practice meditation to help me learn detachment from the world. (Whether you believe detachment is a good thing or not is another matter; but the example holds nonetheless.) Often I will sit down and meditate when I don't feel like it because my mind is racing or focused on other things. But I do it anyway because I understand that it is precisely when I least feel like it that meditation can often be most beneficial. After all, if I only meditate when I feel it is a "fun thing to do", then such a conditional approach would teach me nothing about unconditional detachment.
The reason that "fun" and "feel good" are not good barometers for those on the spiritual path is that these are often associated with addiction. As well as getting good feelings from things that truly benefit us, we can also get these positive feelings from doing the most harmful and destructive of practices. We can even be addicted to perceived negative emotions such as anger, so that the expression of that emotion is paradoxically interwoven with positive emotions as well — being angry can be fun for some people. Emotions therefore are not the foolproof guide presented in Type 1 "spirituality" as to whether what we are doing is right for us. That discernment comes from a much deeper feeling — a knowing — that we can only access through authenticity. That is the true spiritual call … it has to come from the depths of our soul or else we can end up fooling ourselves with a shallow and shiny simulation of a spiritual/authentic life.
With Type 1 "spirituality", we are 2-dimensionally focused on light and love; our lives shine on the outside whilst we atrophy on the inside, for we have denied what we have mistakenly believed to be unspiritual; we have denied the darkness that compliments and defines the light. In the Type 1 realm, emotions are regarded as good and bad and we are caught up in duality. Type 2 and 3 spirituality can be multi-dimensional by contrast, and here we understand that there are other unsavoury aspects of our being that we have to face, that can't just be sublimated out of existence by a visualisation technique. As Jung once said, "I would rather be whole than wholly good," and true spirituality involves us facing our demons as well as our angels, so that we can realize our unity with All-That-Is. When we delve into true spiritual practice, our dark side or shadow must therefore be integrated into an authentic self, otherwise we end up being caricatures of spiritual people. And this process of facing the shadow is not particularly fun or pleasant. That is where the "discipline" in the terms "spiritual discipline" and "disciple" comes in. We need to focus on the bigger picture and move past the temporal world of our surface feelings and emotions. And this takes effort.
Each of us has a natural propensity to wholeness, to find a way to accept the whole of our being, not just the parts that we or others approve of, in the same way that a tiny seedling has a natural propensity to reach for the light of the sky whilst burrowing into the darkness of the soil. This is the true spiritual yearning that so many of us start to feel, and the shallow nature of Type 1 spirituality brings us to this door of awakening. And we all eventually do walk through this door to become an integral part of something much greater than ourselves. Our narcissism drops away as the ego becomes the servant to the greater self … we experience a "calling" to be and do the bidding of our greater self, the self that is far deeper than the "I" most people have in mind when they state that "I create my own reality." This is the authentic self that all of us ultimately seek, and it is the self, I believe, that ultimately does create the reality that we experience. Often it will create a reality that reflects the net-sum of our thoughts and feelings, but often it will throw up something unexpected — perhaps a challenge that we would never have consciously created. And this is only unexpected because we are viewing the process from the ego, because so few of us are in touch with this deeper authentic self.
My friend Valerie was an ardent reality creator unfortunately got cancer. At first she could not believe that she had manifested this problem and was very angry with herself. But as the cancer progressed, she began to see that it was actually the best thing that happened to her. It broke open her compassion and connected her to the struggles and sufferings of other beings, something that previously she would blank out of her life because she didn't want to "lower my vibration" with other people's misery and unconsciousness. And whilst her story did not unfortunately have a Type 1 ending — she did eventually die of her disease — in those last few months of life she reached out to everyone. Her cancer popped the sterilized bubble of selfish reality creation, and Valerie's authenticity and spiritual depth took a massive leap forward.
John too has had his "misfortunes", including the untimely death of his daughter from his first marriage. But John is not ready to crack open and spill his heart out to the world, as Valerie was. He believes he has too much invested in creating and maintaining his own "perfect" reality, and so when misfortune happens to him, as it happens at times to all of us, he berates himself for not focusing enough on what he wants — for creating an imperfect reality. I did once get a glimpse of the real John when his eyes momentarily welled up with tears at the memory of his daughter, soon after her accident, but only a glimpse. "She created her own reality," would be his mantra to allow himself to avoid the pain of a simple tragedy, and the opportunity it gave him to open his heart and become more authentic.
In its wisdom, the authentic part of ourself, the "I" that is truly the reality maker, does not always do it to fulfil our dreams and desires. Sometimes it does it in a way that drags us, kicking and screaming, to the altar of authenticity, where we can learn to sacrifice who we think we are and what we think we deserve. This is authentic spiritual awakening.
Author's Footnote: This article is just a sketch I have done to look at some of the issues around mental reality creation, NOT to negate it. I have great respect for the process and believe that on some level we really do create our realities, and I have huge gratitude for the influence Jane Roberts and other proponents have had on me over the years.