Our Thoughts Are Things
As another calendar year draws to a close, many people make “New Year’s Resolutions.” Losing weight, stopping smoking, stopping drinking, advancing our career, repairing relationships, and travelling are among the most common things people want to change in their lives. These are all worthwhile goals and deserve our attention and best efforts to achieve them.
In Unity, the last Sunday of the year is usually celebrated with what is called The Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremony. Rev. Joanne explains that while the above “resolutions” are all positive steps, they are all outwardly focused.
The first part of the ceremony, the burning bowl, is a means by which we symbolize that which we want to release from our consciousness, not what we want less of in our life. Rather than being an outward focus, this is introspective. So, for example, if we want to lose weight we do not say “I do not want to be fat anymore.” Instead, we make the denial1, “poor exercise and nutrition habits are now no longer a part of my life.” Writing our denial on a piece of flammable flash paper, we then release from our consciousness whatever we choose, by setting the flash paper alight from the flame of The Christ Candle.
Rev. Joanne reminds us that in Unity a denial is not the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, “la, la, la,” pretending that a thing is not real. No. It is acknowledging that this thing, whatever it may be, is indeed real but that we, as Christ-incarnated beings, have the power within us to release and overcome any difficulty. Of course, not all challenges in life are equally difficult. There are two types of differences; there are differences in scale, and differences in kind.
A person may have a goal to finally lose that last 20 pounds. Another person might have a goal of needing to lose 200 pounds. They are the same kind of goal, but have a very large difference in scale. We know that a greater scale presents a greater challenge, but the process of the denial is precisely the same. We acknowledge that which is a reality in our life, but deny that it has power over us.
Without trivializing any challenge that anyone is experiencing, because as we experience them they are only all too real, clearly some things present much greater difficulties. Losing weight versus losing a parent, spouse, or heaven forbid a child, are difficulties that clearly are not equivalent. But again, although the level of challenge each presents are different, the process of denial is the same.
Having now released from our consciousness that which no longer serves us, we move on to the second part of the ceremony - The White Stone. One of the pillars of Unity teachings is the practice of denials and affirmations. The Burning Bowl is the practice of denials, and The White Stone is the practice of affirmations2. Although not strictly a historical document, the writings in the Bible did reflect contemporary customs. Judges in the ancient Greco-Roman world, of which Palestine during the time of Jesus was a part, would cast a black stone toward a defendant found guilty of a crime, and a defendant acquitted would be given a white stone as tangible evidence of their innocence. Based on this custom it was written in the Bible:
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17
In this ceremony, it is upon a white stone that we write that which we now wish to hold in our consciousness – our “new name.” Here is where we state boldly that which we wish to manifest in our lives. Our new name might be a single word such as strength, health, prosperity, or love, but is not limited to that.
When we hold affirmations in our hearts and believe them as Truth3, our thoughts, feelings and actions will all move in harmony toward manifesting them into reality. Just as denials do not ignore realities of life, so too affirmations do not guarantee that our lives will transform exactly as we envision them. However, as we hold these affirmations and move toward that which we desire, Spirit will be guiding us, and the path that is opened to us by Spirit is not always what we expect, but will be in Divine Order for what we need in our life at this time.
I cannot be the only one who has ever made a resolution and not been, how shall we say, 100% committed to it. We fudge, backslide, or outright quit. It’s easier. We make excuses, rationalize, and promise ourselves to change all over again next January 1st.
Art imitates life. As a child one of my favorite cartoons was “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” One of the running gags was Bullwinkle posing as a magician:
Bullwinkle: “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
Bullwinkle: “Nothing up my sleeve, (tears off sleeve). Presto!”
Instead of a rabbit, pulls out a lion’s head. Rocky frowns with irritation and not being surprised.
Bullwinkle: “No doubt about it, I’ve got to get another hat.”
Denials and Affirmations are not magic tricks. When what we wish to release, and then accomplish or attain, are not showing up in our life, it is not because we need to get a different hat. After trying the “trick” many times and pulling out a bear, tiger, rhino, and lion, eventually Bullwinkle pulls Rocky from the hat - not a rabbit, but moving in the right direction. He never gave up or lost faith. Yes, this is just a cartoon, but we can learn that the “magic” we wish to appear in our life is not supernatural. The Law of Mind-Action tells us, “Thoughts held in mind, produce after their kind.” And when we are not completely faithful to our commitment to change, we can always begin again – not next January 1st, but in any given moment, on any given day. Divine Mind is always there for us.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
This week, pay attention to the ways you habitually pick back up that which was released today. When you notice that you are doing so, stop. Take a breath. Release again: I release this once more, giving it no further power in my mind. Take another breath. Affirm: I am set free to be the Spirit of God expressing as me!
Although a calendar is merely a human construct used for time-keeping, and the turning to a new year is nothing magical, it does offer us an opportunity for the beneficial practice of contemplating where we have been in our life, and how we would like to learn, improve and grow in the future.
I have not always been successful in being true to my own resolutions. Sometimes I have. One notable instance of positive change was my decision to quit smoking tobacco. It was not a New Year’s Resolution. It was a conscious decision to make an obvious, though difficult, positive health related decision. Once that decision was made – and that was in March of 1988 – I have never had a cigarette since.
If in the course of making new positive choices for myself I discover that I have slipped up, I will draw upon both the guidance of Divine Mind and the strength obtained therein, and the knowledge of the success I have enjoyed for the last 32 tobacco free years. For 31-1/2 of those years it has been easy. I have no cravings or desire to return to smoking. I do not think about it anymore. It just is not an option. That is what a decision means.
We must be firm with ourselves, and do our very best to hold ourselves to our commitments – and deep down we all know when we are doing our best and when we are not – and not simply fall back on the idea of “oh, well, I’ll just start my diet over again next week, month, or year.” At the same time we must not berate or chastise ourselves for coming up short. We can begin anew in any moment. The decision is 100% ours.
1Denial - A denial is a relinquishment, and it should not be made with too much vehemence. Let us make our denials as though we were gently sweeping away cobwebs, and our affirmations in a strong, bold, positive attitude of mind. When we poise ourselves in Divine Mind our affirmations and denials will be made in right relation. We will know just when to let go of a thought and when to lay hold of another. Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.
2Affirmation - The "yes" action of the mind; the act of affirming; the declaring of Truth; the mental movement that asserts confidently and persistently the Truth of Being in the face of all appearances to the contrary. Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.
3Truth - God's thought projecting into our mind ideas that will build spiritual consciousness like that of Jesus. The Spirit of truth watches every detail of our life. When we ask and by affirmation proclaim its presence, it brings new life into both mind and body and moves us to observe spiritual and physical laws that restore health. Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.