Perception in Stoicism, Buddhism, and New Thought: Creating an inner life through imagination

Drinking tea and reading books and enjoying the life of the mind. Photo by Dr Michael de Percy.

Mastering Your Inner World Neville Goddard Explained: Manifesting with EaseMastering Your Inner World Neville Goddard Explained: Manifesting with Ease by Rita Faith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There will be no more academic snobbishness from here on in. Reading this book, it hit me like a thunderbolt, bringing back a bunch of lessons from earlier readings and confirming so many life experiences. I've noticed the difference already with some simple techniques that make life so much better. Is it the book, the techniques, the confirmation of naturally acquired skills? I don't know. But here is my attempt to explain.

I am at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in early 1993. The ropes test. 6 metres up and down then up and down again in patrol order (rifle and webbing). Not my greatest strength and I am on "sluggers" or remedial physical training until I pass. I am talking with a colleague about it, that last "bite" on the rope that we struggle to make. We decide that we should just do it. Take that last bite. The body won't let us down. Wrong. And the blisters are worse than the thump on the ground from 6 metres up. No shame though, I gutted it out.

That  night, I dream about the ropes. While everyone else is eating dinner tomorrow night, I (along with the other sluggers), will get another crack at the tests we haven't passed. All night I toss and turn and I am up the rope and then down and then up again and then down and it all flows. The dream repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats... zzzzzz.

The next day I pass and I never fail the ropes test again. It was a purely mental issue from an earlier experience with the rope obstacle on an obstacle course and an arsehole I have since cursed and forgiven and now whatever. I was just a boy. A feeling of cowardice and not good enough and immorality in that sense of the bayonet as a moral weapon and I was immoral. So much conservative crap that did more for that arsehole's ego than my motivation. Life experiences have proven the opposite and I have learnt to be much kinder to myself.

Recent experiences with Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) have revealed a bunch of parts of me that I wasn't aware of. I have learnt to recognise the various parts of me, the good, the bad, the evil, the off with the daisies naive kid, the arsehole dirty fighter, the whole shebang. They are all part of me and they won't go away. But my imagination has been fired up to see the Council of Me, the various parts that run riot if the conscious me doesn't acknowledge them and keep them under control.

It all sounds hokey. I felt this recently when I decided that I needed to find my inner compass. I found the website Wanderlust and an exercise by Melissa Colleret to do just that. It felt hokey, but I came up with three of my core values that echo past exercises I have done. Love, Freedom, and Learning: Dilectio Libertas et Doctrina.

I realised that I have been manifesting my entire life. Be an army officer; be a theologian; be a politician (oh no, not for me! Well saved!); be a political scientist; live the life of the mind; live in the country but work in Canberra (my favourite city in Australia); live in a federation house (and other things too personal to mention). I remember after graduating from Duntroon how it struck me: Now what? It makes me think of a quote attributed to the actor, Lily Tomlin:
I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realise I should have been more specific.

I've been trying to practice Stoicism for the last four years, and along with every other endeavour of my idealism, I have trashed my ideals. My enthusiasm for Stoicism has not been able to overcome its shortcomings. Are we really to resign ourselves to our circumstances? Imagine if I'd done that when I was stuck in a job that was so bad, I contemplated the main problem concerning philosophy, a la Albert Camus.

Often, when teaching leadership classes, I get to re-live my shortcomings. For example, James Clawson's work separates the "what do I want to be" from the "how do I want to feel" (the Internal Life's Dream - LDint - versus the External Life's Dream - LDext - otherwise known as "Resonance").

I have found my calling and I am living in accordance with my inner compass (even when I felt I wasn't).  Nothing hokey about any of that.

But the Stoics don't feel too much. And, like Buddhists, they focus on managing their perceptions or impressions. And here is the common ground I have found with Goddard's ideas:

Imagination is God and God is imagination.

And finally I arrive at Rita Faith's book. It isn't hokey. Neville Goddard was an inspiration to Wayne Dyer. So you don't like Hay House? Well Dyer's PhD supervisor was Abraham Maslow. You know, the first theory you learnt at uni and the theory you tried to fit into all your first year essays because it was the only one that made sense? Yeah, him.

As I finished reading Faith's work on Goddard, I was half way through Jack Kerouac's Wake Up, a biography of the Buddha. I've been thinking a lot about Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. (I am still trying to work out whether Hesse was writing about Buddha or a parallel to Buddha. I suppose it doesn't matter.)

The Britannica entry on Herman Hesse's Siddhartha reads as follows:

Despairing of finding fulfillment, he goes to the river and learns to simply listen. He discovers within himself a spirit of love and learns to accept human separateness... As Siddhartha grows older, a fundamental truth gradually becomes apparent both to him and to us: there is no single path to self-growth, no one formula for how to live life. Hesse challenges our ideas of what it means to lead a spiritual life, to strive after and to achieve meaningful self-growth through blind adherence to a religion, philosophy, or indeed any system of belief.

There was my connection. The aptly named Rita Faith tells me that Goddard says I have to die to my former state of mind. I have to imagine not how I will achieve what I want to achieve, but how I will feel (there's that Clawson again) when I have achieved it.

The Law of Attraction and other New Thought self-help books go back to the 19th century. The latest iteration by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, has some major issues. For starters, Wayne Dyer wanted nothing to do with it. Second, Neville Goddard didn't think it was a secret at all and (apparently) he taught for some forty years never charging for his lectures, only asking for a contribution to his travelling expenses.

And more recently, Mark Manson has called "bullshit" on The Secret. And then it takes an interesting turn:

Call me crazy, but I believe that changing and improving your life requires destroying a part of yourself and replacing it with a newer, better part of yourself. It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

Call me crazy, but isn't that what Goddard said? Isn't that what Rita Faith says, too? You have to actually DIE to your former self, not think it positively away with other positive delusionals!

Here is the key takeaway from Faith's short book. We can manage our impressions (or perceptions). For the Stoics, events are facts neither good nor bad, only our reaction to our impressions of these events is good or bad. To the Buddhists, as far as my reading takes me, our impressions of the world are the cause of our suffering. What if there was another way? And what if it wasn't a secret?

The Stoics leave out the how of managing our impressions. I still use Stoic philosophy, but as Seneca would have said, if Epicurus tells me something good I should use it. Rita Faith is telling me something good and I'm using it.

For all the times I have dwelt upon negative thoughts, becoming jaded at being overworked or overworking myself out of some sort of fear or self-doubt, or been afraid to be happy about something in case I jinx it, I can finally call bullshit.

There is no single way, religion, or philosophy. Human separateness (from Hesse), and individualism as a reaction to my senses (from Kerouac), versus re-programming my senses, or dying to my former state of mind, has provided me with a way to use my imagination to control my inner world. The Stoics tell me to do this, but they don't tell me how.

It's not the kind of delusional positive thinking that I abhor. It's like the law of attraction but it is also more like the experiences I have had when all of my mind and energies were focused and brought to bear on some purpose. And it can be done with memories, too. The idea of revision is to go back and reimagine the past. Not the events per se but the feelings.

It struck me that during one of my EMDR sessions, I recall an event as a kid in Western Sydney. I am in a fight with another kid. The mother of the kid I am fighting and her friend are standing by, telling the other kid how best to hurt me. 

I had mostly forgotten about the experience, but I remember a moment of clarity that makes me laugh. The mother's friend had mini-fox terriers. I looked at them and thought "wow they are cool dogs!" I have two of my own mini-foxies now! And so the memory is revised. No longer crapping on about a crappy situation, but grateful for my mutts and the revised memory.

And every day I think about how I will feel when I accomplish the things I aim to accomplish. Not how I will accomplish them. And much like giving myself time to think really works, giving myself time to feel works remarkably well, too. I am delighted that this book fills some gaps in my knowledge. Or, in the words of my sister:

Learning is cyclic, not linear. There are never any gaps, just the right timing and prior knowledge to build upon.

And all this from a 46-page page quick-read at AUD$3.99 via Kindle!

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