The term "New Thought" is actually deceiving - there is nothing new at all about this way of thinking. Many spiritual and cultural traditions teach the idea of our outer life being a reflection, or mirror, of our inner life. We all agree with the basic idea of life giving back to us what we put out ("Do unto others," what goes around comes around, etc.), but we don't take it much further than that. New Thought does.
In a nutshell, the idea in New Thought is that everything you experience in your outer world is a reflection of your own inner thoughts and belief systems. Everything. Keeping an open mind for a moment, think about it. Do you know someone who just seems to attract crisis after crisis? Or someone who's just always lucky? Haven't you ever
wondered why that is?
None of us likes to think of being responsible for everything that shows up in our lives -the idea itself seems cruel, to say the least. Obviously, there are limits to how far you are going to take any idea, and every great philosophical and/or spiritual system has its abusers, too. No-one should ever be told that their suffering is all their fault. But that's not what this is about.
This New Thought way of thinking, or "mirror thinking," is meant to be empowering, not debilitating; that is, if we are, on some level, responsible for everything in our lives, then that means there must also be a way we can change what happens to us.
Research on the human brain is fascinating. One of the things that they have found through researching the process of meditative visualization is that at a certain level of (sub-)consciousness, the brain can't tell the difference between what's real and what's imagined. That is a fantastic statement. Studies have been done of athletes, for example, who trained "in their heads" (in a meditative setting) and were compared to others who trained in the "real world," and there was surprisingly little difference - including in actual muscular development- between the two groups.
All of us are constantly sending ourselves subconscious messages, and most of them are repeated thousands of times throughout the day. These messages, to a large degree, paint how we see the world. If we "see" ourselves
as ugly (i.e., repeatedly tell ourselves that we are ugly), no matter how much weight we lose, clothes we buy, or plastic surgery we have, we are still going to see only ugly. Anorexics and bulimics are case in point - but anorexics and bulimics are no more pathological than any of the rest of us, because we all do it.
Alternatively, think of those people who just always seem happy, and, no matter what happens in their life, they're always positive - to the point of being annoying to a lot of the rest of us. They, like the girl with bulimia, are also telling themselves something, but their message is positive and so the reflection in their life is also positive.
I have a friend who was raised in a strong Christian family. She is one of those people who just loves life, and, looking in from the outside, everything always seems to just fall into place for her. Her sister, on the other hand, always seems to be in the middle of some tragedy - heart-wrenching, awful experiences that no-one would wish on anyone. One day, the three of us were chatting, and the subject of God came up. My friend described the God of her childhood as a loving, forgiving, happy "parent." Her sister, to our amazement, described the God of her
childhood (same parents, same upbringing) as a mean, egotistical, and cruel dictator. One doesn't need much of an imagination to picture what kind of world each perceived themselves living in (as children) - even though, from the outside, their world was very much the same.
It all boils down to perception. When we perceive good things around us, we attract more good things into our lives - the catch is in the definition of "good." Someone who always perceives "good" always perceives good- they don't see the break-up or the bankruptcy or the job loss as bad but as an opportunity for something good to happen, and that, then, is exactly what ends up happening. Just as a little girl who is happy and friendly (i.e., perceives the world as a good place) won't attract mean bullies as friends, so it is with us as adults. We attract into our lives what we perceive. If we perceive life as good, we attract good. If we perceive life as lacking, we attract lack. If we see ourselves as broke, we continue to be broke.
This type of thinking is empowering, because it teaches us that we can change our reality - that doesn't mean the objective reality is necessarily going to change much (although I would argue it will, eventually), but our experience of it will. That person who drives you crazy because they're so over-controlling is actually a mirror of a part of you that controls - it has to be, otherwise it probably wouldn't bother you. Think about the man who swears he'll never be like his dad and ends up just like him - why? Because what he hated in his dad was in him all along, but he didn't look for it. Change what's in you, and what's outside of you changes.
Life is good - or bad - or neither. It is what it is, and what it is, is exactly what we make. We can choose to continue to see life as beyond our control, or we can develop a spiritual practice to start changing our internal messages and create something better.
Perhaps John Milton said it best in "Paradise Lost": "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."