The Thought-Factor in Achievement
“A man can only rise, conquer, and achieve by lifting up his thoughts. He can only remain weak, and abject, and miserable by refusing to lift up his thoughts.”
Our successes and failures are determined by our thoughts. Rearranging the outside world or hating an ‘oppressor’ for enslaving us will not make things better. That’s because we enslave ourselves. And since our suffering and happiness evolve from within, we are the only ones who can set ourselves free.
Even though people may observe success and mistakenly attribute it to luck, fortune, or chance, “all achievements, whether in the business, intellectual, or spiritual world, are the result of definitely directed thought, are governed by the same law, and are of the same method; the only difference lies in the object of attainment”. There’s just no getting around the need for sacrifice.
Visions and Ideals
“Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.”
We all need a purpose for our lives. Our dreams for the future should never stop because “he who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realise it”. Dreamers save the world.
No matter how challenging our present circumstances may be, it’s useful to remember that even the greatest achievements once began as nothing more than ‘impossible’ ideas. With the right resources, even tiny acorns can grow into towering oak trees.
“The calm man, having learned how to govern himself, knows how to adapt himself to others; and they, in turn, reverence his spiritual strength, and feel that they can learn of him and rely upon him. The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good.”
Sometimes it can feel as though the world is spinning out of control. We’re constantly bombarded with news as “humanity surges with uncontrolled passion, is tumultuous with ungoverned grief, is blown about by anxiety and doubt”. But throughout all that, we can control ourselves. It’s an ability we should all develop because it’s the only way our internal struggles will finally subside.
Finding that state of perfect equanimity can be tough. But through consistent effort in self-control, we can understand the nature of cause and effect as it relates to our thoughts. We can remain serene even as others are swept up by the vicissitudes of life. And we can finally realise that a mind controlled can do anything.
I first read this book about eight years ago when our high school math teacher made the suggestion. Reading it again now (much like my recent experience rereading Lord of the Flies after an equally long time) makes me realise how much depth I initially missed. Perhaps it was the formal English that made it tempting to skim through. Or perhaps I was just a few years too young to fully grasp what was being said. In any case, I now realise this book contains a wealth of insight and understanding if you’re prepared to take your time. Yes, it can feel a little repetitive when Allen keeps churning out analogy after analogy to belabour the same point, but his vivid and beautifully described images are stressed for a reason.
The biggest criticism of the book is that it doesn’t offer any proof. Even though Allen mentioned upfront that he’d avoid the technicalities on exactly how these principles work, the book still managed to squeeze in too many ideas that made leaving out said technicalities feel like cheating. He talks about how this ‘law’ applies like those in the physical world (“as the plant springs from the seed, as the wheel follows the ox”) but basically stops there. And even though he does offer a few casual observations (the lazy schemer who remains wretchedly poor, the rich glutton who can’t pay his way out of sickness, the cheapskate employer who eventually goes broke), these aren’t enough. It’s like having a child ask why something is the way it is and simply answering “because”.
He also mentions that there is no element of chance. If life is conveniently complex enough for these principles to work, isn’t it an oversimplification to assume good people can’t have random misfortune or that bad people can’t stumble upon luck? Apparently not. Allen’s reasoning as to why people get what they don’t deserve is that they do in fact deserve it: “The dishonest man may have some admirable virtues which the [honest man] does not possess; and the honest man obnoxious vices which are absent in the other. The honest man reaps the good results of his honest thoughts and acts; he also brings upon himself the sufferings which his vices produce. The dishonest man likewise garners his own suffering and happiness.” Does that mean the people in Libya and Japan deserve what they’re going through now? That seems absurd.
The main problem with the law of attraction (especially as bludgeoned by authors like Rhonda Byrne) is that too much emphasis is placed on thought. If good things happen, it’s because they were somehow manifested; if they don’t, it’s because our thoughts weren’t strong enough. Once again, it could all be nothing but chance, but this fact is often ignored. It’s no wonder many sceptics have dismissed this as more new age garbage. How on earth can you simply sit on a cushion, picture good things, and have them magically fall from the sky? And how can thinking happy thoughts make your cancer go away? Even though it’s been shown that stress (which is mostly in our heads) can weaken our physical defences and leave us susceptible to disease, we still need medicine to treat the body. Good thinking alone isn’t enough.
And that right there is the key. Action alone can be misguided while thought alone will just leave you buzzed. But when used together, they produce great results. Thought forms a clear vision of what you want while action goes out to make it happen. That’s why we need both and that’s why both must be aligned. You need to believe that you’re capable of achieving whatever you want (think the right thoughts) and be prepared to work hard to get it (do the right things). As Allen in fact says: “Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonise with his thoughts and actions.” Nobody can deny the power in that.
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