Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thoughts As Things

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a fascinating trend in the media regarding the topic of prayer. There are fairly regular reports of Christian ministers and conservative evangelical Christians praying for someone’s harm or demise, usually a political figure that they hate (dislike is apparently too weak of a word when you’re moved to wish them dead). Here is the latest example that I saw on HTMLGiant this morning.

The most obvious first thought about this phenomena is “wow, how un-Christian”. It’s exactly this sort of thing that gives Christianity, and by association all religion, a bad name in popular culture. The media does not focus on the positive things that groups do to build bridges between communities—they tend to focus on this sort of thing. And from their perspective, why not? Outrage over hateful acts is more interesting than stories of people getting along, at least in our culture. Though the media doesn’t really know how to handle the latter effectively—whenever there is such a positive story, it ends up coming across as sentimental and sappy. But I digress—

The second thought that I have about this use of prayer-to-do-harm is how ironic it is, given that these same churches are very opposed to anything “magical” in nature. The logic of praying to harm your enemies is the same as the logic entailed in casting a spell. There is an assumption that your intention can become a “thing.” Regardless of whether you cast a circle and summon some elemental spirit, practice some nature magic ritual that draws in energies towards your intention, or sit with your hands folded and say, “please God do this for me”, it all amounts to the same thing. You are petitioning the Whole for your small part.

You may scoff at the idea, whether labeled prayer or magic. It’s a hubris-laden absurdity to think that you can make something like that occur just by praying for it (pride is still one of the seven deadly sins, isn’t it?). However, the idea is not as far-fetched as you might think. I am not suggesting that such prayer techniques will actually work, but there is some merit to the idea of a thought as a thing.

When I was younger (20 years younger, come to think of it), I was fascinated by the idea of thoughts-as-things. I used to play around with creating these sort of blobs of concentrated energy that were focused on a specific purpose that I’d created myself. Interestingly enough, they worked—and the thought became so real at some point, you could reach out your hand and feel the ball of energy. The problem is that they require a lot of energy, and often generate little return. In short, it’s as much of a waste of time as sitting around trying to move stuff with your mind.

People can create such “thoughtforms” without even realizing it. My own mother has done this, though she’s in denial that this is what she’s actually done. For years and years now she has been plagued at night by some “thing” that hovers near her bed. You can actually hear it breathing or making a popping sound—I got to experience this once. I could tell right away that this is what it was—it follows her from place to place (we were in North Carolina at the time I heard it), and it only centers around her. My mother is an Olympic-level worrier, and what I sense is that it’s basically this composite of all the negativity she projects on her sleepless nights. You may say, “Oh, but all mothers do that.” To a degree, yes. This happens to be an unusually high degree. And the psyche is a powerful and mysterious thing.

Usually the effects of thoughts are cumulative over time. If you have a goal or wish, you may see the fruits of that wish many years later, partially through effort (as the saying goes, you can’t expect to win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket), and partially through the thought process that can form the wish into a reality. You may be skeptical, but I’ve seen it happen enough times to be satisfied that this happens at least some of the time. If underneath it all reality is just a unified energy state, and what we experience is an illusion or hologram dictated by our point of view (see “Smoke and Mirrors” post on how we “create” the universe), then why wouldn’t we be able to shape the nature of that illusion to some degree?

In the Hindu religion, there is no such thing as a prayer for an individual. If someone dies in your house and the swami comes to pray for them, the swami will pray for the whole world, not just the person who died. Why? Because everyone is connected to everyone and everything else. To say “I’m going to pray for you, but not you” makes no sense, because on some level, there is no difference between “you” and what you perceive as “not you”. We also talk about the idea of “karma”—one’s good or bad actions (or inaction) having consequences—though it’s not a unique idea to Hinduism. Even Christianity suggest that you “will reap what you sow”. What I have found is that if one is going to dedicate a lot of brain space to a goal, it is best to do so with some humility and consideration for the rest of the world. What might be good for you might be harmful to someone else. In the end, going with the flow will still get you farther than such mental gyrations—some part of you already knows where it’s going, if you just pay attention.

So, I fail to understand supposed Christians who spend any part of their prayer life trying to harm others. It’s a little like Monty Python’s “Palestinian suicide squad”—they say “take that!” and proceed to kill themselves. (“That really showed ‘em, eh?”) If your actions come back to you, it’s not particularly smart to expend your energy trying to harm someone else for your selfish concerns. You’re probably not going to affect them, though you are likely to screw up your own life. But you have to be pretty screwed up, or at least not particularly bright, to consider such a strategy in the first place.

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