Goals of Treatment

In healthcare, we establish treatment goals for patients in all areas of care. For the palliative care (dying) patient that goal can include pain management and remaining in the preferred location for the patient (e.g. home vs in the hospital), while the behavioral health patient may work toward goals of reducing/eliminating symptoms and being able to function more effectively at home, work, school, and in the community.

These goals facilitate clear communication between the healthcare providers (nurses, doctors, surgeons, therapists, etc.) and the patient along with family or caregivers. Things just work better when the entire team is headed in the same direction, or at the very least – making decisions that are intended to move things toward an agreed-upon outcome.

I was in a meeting at work earlier this week (I’m a healthcare professional) and heard this term and began to think about it in terms of Spiritual Mind Treatment – and how the concept of “treatment goals” may be applicable.

I grew up in the Protestant (mainline) Christian tradition, with numerous female relatives who believe(d) deeply in the power of prayer and throughout my life I have counted on those prayers. As rebellious as I have been (leaving the religion of my birth many years ago), I never gave up my belief that there is great power in prayer.

One of the appealing aspects of spiritual metaphysics is the pivot away from the begging posture of traditional prayer, and the affirmative nature of stating that we have all that we need, “thank you, God!” That perspective alone (from begging to affirming) is likely responsible for a significant number of “converts” from traditional religions into spiritual metaphysics.

The challenge comes when the “promise” (implied or explicit) that we are powerful creators who can channel that Power for Good in the Universe – doesn’t materialize, or doesn’t show up in a way that we had expected, wanted or needed.

In traditional religion, we’re raised to accept that God answers prayer, but in God’s own timing, and in God’s own way. When prayers go unanswered in these circles, we’re already prepared for that possibility because we know that what we WANT may not be what the all-knowing “Father” decides we should acquire or experience. In fact, it is not uncommon for us to hear things like “it must be God’s will” in response to life happenings that take place in spite of the most fervent prayers to the contrary. This concept is codified in the well-known and oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer:

10 Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6

In metaphysical spiritual corners, the response or non-response of a Treatment takes on a multitude of forms, depending on the teacher. In old school, fundamentalist corners of religious science, any Treatment that goes un-demonstrated is said to be due to the client not having the right consciousness. It is believed that absolutely anything can be achieved with Treatment (affirmative prayer) and is referred to by many as “scientific, affirmative prayer” (I’ve used that term in this blog but I will be stepping back from that terminology as I think it is misleading).

It’s reasoned that since it is “scientific“, it will always work if it is “done correctly“. When it fails to produce results, the accusations have historically been laid at the feet of the person seeking the demonstration(s). This is beginning to fall from favor as people who have lost jobs, fallen seriously ill and had family members die have pushed back against this “shaming” practice. This perspective has driven people away who felt let down by a tradition that seemed to turn on them in their darkest hour. Click here to read a 2-post blog series by another writer on that topic.

To be fair – not every metaphysical spiritual teacher takes this approach; but it is prevalent enough to cause some problems.

It is also only right that I admit that I have had a lot of demonstrations after Treatment, and have spent a significant portion of the real estate on this blog writing about them. But I would be DISHONEST if I said that everything I do Treatment for, demonstrates. It does not and I am often frustrated by this reality.

How do we promote “spiritual living” (according to the principles of spiritual metaphysics), that addresses these issues honestly? How do we avoid dancing around and insisting that Treatment is “scientific” and that spiritual law works as reliably and consistently as physical laws (think gravity) when it is clear to EVERYONE who prays – regardless of the perspective they pray from – that many prayers go unanswered or are answered in ways that look nothing like what we were seeking?

In a previous blog post I cited the experiment in the Chemistry lab where Sodium metal (Na+) is added to water and always produces an exothermic reaction (explosion). It is my belief that when we teach, hint at or imply that affirmative prayer is “scientific“, the average person makes some assumptions around the reliability of Spiritual Mind Treatment. And they probably hold on to this for a time,…. until multiple instances of a failure to demonstrate makes them start to wonder and ask questions – sometimes of people who are unwilling to HEAR those questions, let alone attempt to answer them.

In an article by a Christian writer based in England, I came across one of the simplest, but best treatises on the issue. She suggests that prayer isn’t intended to work by us manipulating God. It’s not “prayer in – demonstration out” (I’ve written about that here). But she contends (and I agree) that it is still effective. The reason is that:

Prayer changes us.

Anne E Thompson

This writer’s Christian perspective is providing some good advice for those teaching spiritual metaphysics and affirmative prayer. It’s advice that the spiritual-not-religious crowd has heard (and shared) before: be still and know.

OK – so that comes from the book of Psalms, but the concept is at the heart of most meditation practices. Getting still, being quiet and connecting with a higher wisdom, a higher knowing, our higher selves or God-self.

I suspect that most seasoned meditation teachers would agree that an established meditation practice changes the person who meditates. That sounds a lot like Thompson’s contention that “prayer changes us“.

Perhaps it’s time to stop marketing the prayer form in metaphysical spiritual communities as a “scientific” method to get things that we want, and encourage its practice solely for its overall positive benefit – like we do with meditation.

We change for the better when we develop a spiritual practice – whether it is a meditation or daily prayer ritual. We feel less HELPLESS when we spend time sharing our concerns with someone – even if that “someone” is our version of a higher power.

Anyone willing to be honest will admit that they have prayed or done Treatment for something that has not come to pass – or has showed up looking significantly different than they wanted or expected. It’s time to move past the insistence that we’re doing something wrong when that happens; to move past the mental gymnastics that attempt to portray non-demonstrations as demonstrations, and accept some wisdom from our brothers and sisters in traditional religion: sometimes we Treat/pray and the only thing that changes is us.

And that’s OK.

It’s not as sexy as the sports car or gold necklace acquired by “focused wishing” in the movie, The Secret – but is much more sustainable as a practice, and perhaps more importantly – it’s grounded in an honest reality.

Sometimes – maybe a lot of the time – we won’t see the blessing behind our unanswered prayers and we may need to surrender to the possibility that a higher Power or Divine Wisdom has a different plan – one we cannot see, and may not want. Perhaps it’s time to move past the focus on manifesting what we think we need and turn instead to embrace the unscientific uncertainty that is true spiritual living.

I opened this post with a discussion about Treatment Goals in healthcare. I’ll close with the suggestion that the Treatment Goal for affirmative prayer/spiritual mind treatment can be a proximity to and awareness of Spirit, period. It may not line up with our deepest desires and might not appear as anything close to what we think we need; but if we believe in prayer enough to practice it, and this is what comes to us – it’s more than enough.

And so it is.

(C) 2021 Practitioner's Path

Monday musings – 4

In one of the little downtown areas of my suburban neighborhood, the most luscious flowers were in bloom last year. Thick, soft petals and vibrant colors seemed to call out for me to take their photo!

Mid-pandemic, it seemed that we were surrounded by so many things to find depressing. This bright, yellow burst of sunshine reminded me that indeed, life is full of blessings, and encountering this flower and its relatives on my walks were one of them last year.

A science problem

I recently participated in an online discussion thread where someone asked a legitimate question about the “science” aspect of religious science, and wow (just wow!).

I’ve written before about science – which is provable, repeatable, valid and reliable – as compared to things like affirmative prayer – which is reliable, but in a VERY different way.

I like to use the example of the science behind the reaction of the metal Sodium (Na+) when it is placed in water (H20). Here’s a short demo (video) to demonstrate an actual scientific principle.

Here’s the thing with (real) science: it’s repeatable each and every time you perform the experiment. Every time you take sodium metal and place it into water, you get an exothermic reaction. Period.

This is not the case with the principles and practices in religious “science“. If the prayer work done by Practitioners in religious science were as reliable as the experiment in the video above, there would be STANDING ROOM ONLY on Sunday mornings, weeknights classes and beyond in metaphysical churches and centers. One of the reasons that we do not see these mobs is that – science in the name or not – the “laws” taught in religious science simply don’t produce the same consistent results.

Here’s why I get so frustrated with those who will argue that this teaching is a SCIENCE In the same way that physics or biology are sciences: it just lowers the intellectual tenor of the conversation, shows deep ignorance, and undermines an otherwise wonderful philosophy and way of life, unnecessarily.

Here were some of the responses to the questioning around why spiritual metaphysics is referred to as a “science” (e.g. Divine Science, Religious Science): (3 separate contributors)

It is a science, and there is plentiful – bountiful – research and studies out there to prove it. And its validity is becoming more mainstream and popular the more scientific evidence comes out supporting it. Just research it.?

sci·ence (noun): the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. This is exactly what Holmes has set out for us to examine, practice and live. In the simplest terms, there are irrefutable Laws in the manifest world. If we live in accord with those Laws we will have specific results. 1+2=3.

“Science” because the principles are demonstrable and can be proven by application in one’s own life.

It’s nice that folks are so dedicated, but frankly this does more damage than anything. My concern is also that these are not just one or two individuals passing on bad information – I suspect (based on evidence I have seen with my own eyes) that this is being taught as science, and compared to physics and biology, etc.

Again – I’m as much a fan of spiritual metaphysics as anyone – but I refuse to check my good sense at the door. Religious “Science” is not a science, and – despite what one well-intentioned contributor wrote, these laws are not irrefutable. If they WERE, and we could reproduce prayers that heal with the same “irrefutable” consistency that Sodium reacts with Water, we would have more clout and revenue than Apple.

We most definitely do not, and here’s part of the “why“:

Many teachers claim that Treatment always demonstrates. Let’s consider a hypothetical person who seeks spiritual intervention for a COVID diagnosis. Let’s say this person has a loving family, a good job, a happy life – all the reasons in the world to want to live, demonstrated further by their reaching out and working with a Practitioner to do Treatment in support of the medical care they are also receiving. They are clearly making decisions and taking actions that indicate they want to recover and live.

If, even after Treatment in combination with medical interventions, they die – things start to get “interesting” from the metaphysical spiritual explanations perspective.

Those deeply invested in the philosophy being scientific will look for reasons that the person who asked for Treatment to recover has subsequently died. In the past, this has sometimes taken an ugly turn whereby the person who died was deemed to have not had the “right consciousness” so to be open to the healing. This is known as shaming and is falling from favor (but is not fully gone) in the teaching.

Let’s say, however, that well-meaning folks don’t shame the person who died, but instead contend that the highest Good was achieved – even if it doesn’t look that way. That very well may be, but it’s a real easy way out of explaining why the “scientific prayer” to return someone to full health didn’t work.

At the risk of repeating myself one too many times: this NEVER happens when sodium and water meet. You can take it to the BANK that there will be an exothermic reaction when sodium metal is placed in water. Scientists never ONCE have to explain that the highest good was achieved even though the sodium in the water did not explode – because it always explodes.

The teachings in New Thought are absolutely a net positive; but in my opinion, they are NOT and should never be presented as being scientific.

One reason they should not is that we run the risk of leading people astray. Read this article on how badly that has gone in some corners of Christian Science.

Another reason is that we undermine this teaching, philosophy and life perspective that is so very helpful to so many. We negate all the GOOD that spiritual metaphysics can do by insisting – in the face of significant evidence to the contrary – that it is as much a science as physics or biology. And when it does not produce and reproduce the same consistent results, we have damaged the brand, made ourselves look silly, foolish or worse and at the end of the day – we have helped no one.

In the forum I also pointed out that when we send astronauts into space on a ROCKET, the physicists and rocket scientists are using SCIENCE to calculate the force needed to go beyond the atmosphere, the materials needed to withstand the heat of the friction as they leave and then re-enter the atmosphere, the amount of rocket fuel needed, the trajectory required to dock with the ISS,… etc. (you get the picture).

This is hard core SCIENCE and if they get something wrong, people die.

In Religious “Science” (or Christian or Divine “Science“) when someone seeks out a prayer or a Treatment and it does not demonstrate, there are any number of explanations as to how the non-demonstration is really a demonstration. When people are quite ill and die, this becomes most visible. People will say that they achieved a “true healing“.

Imagine if we sent astronauts into space, and the spaceship blew up and instead of looking to see what went wrong – we just put our hands in the air and said: “they arrived in space – just in a different manner, so our mission was indeed accomplished“.

This would not be acceptable – and rightly so.

We cannot have it both ways. If we want to stomp our feet and insist that these practices are SCIENCE, we better be able to show some consistent, provable demonstrations.

Here’s a very simple way to end this “debate” once and for all:

Line up a cohort of people (n = 50) who have a similar need (e.g. health issue) and get a team of experienced Practitioners or ministers to do Treatment for these people, and document the results. Repeat this same experiment in a different geographic area (different cohort) – perhaps this time dealing with financial issues – and again, document the results.

This is not hard to do, and would very QUICKLY shut people like me up if it produced consistent results. It would also catapult the teaching into the mainstream faster than the next “Secret” movie if it works the way some folks claim that it does. The RISK here however, is that it might also have the opposite effect, and it is that reason that I suspect this has not been done.

Science of Mind and Spirit is a philosophy – a wonderful, life-affirming, supportive philosophy that has the ability to help those that learn its principles to live richer, fuller lives. We don’t need to compete with physics or biology to enjoy its benefits, and we do more harm – to ourselves and to the teaching we love – when we insist that it is a science like any other.

It’s time for the leadership to put its money where its mouth is: sanction and fund a research study to prove the scientific efficacy of spiritual mind treatment, or issue a cease & desist on all the “science” talk nonsense – once and for all.

(C) 2021 Practitioner's Path

Self-inflicted misery

One of the criticisms that I (and many others) have laid at the feet of the hit movie, The Secret, as well as the numerous Law of Attraction teachers that emerged after it went viral, is the suggestion that getting everything we want and living the life of our dreams is as simple as thinking or wishing it into form.

In fairness to the producers and to Rhonda Byrne, I know that they understand that this is not how it works. I also understand the need to make a movie that has mass market appeal. STILL,… I continue to hold that the movie is equal parts help and detriment to one’s spiritual journey, depending on the willingness of the individual seeker to dig deeper.

Most of us know full well that life is full of UPS and DOWNS. Walking the spiritual path does not provide a “get out of jail free” card for life in that we can avoid all the pain, suffering and struggle that comes with being human. As I have posted in my bio, “Life still happens – good, bad and otherwise.”

Certainly when we learn, apply and live according to metaphysical spiritual principles, we end up with access to better tools to deal with the things that come our way, and can often not only bounce back, but – to paraphrase someone I admire – bounce back better!

There’s no doubt that we more quickly pivot and get back on course after a life disaster or fiasco when we can dip into our spiritual tool box for help. HOWEVER, today I want to address a habit that can make the availability of tools seem to be too little, too late. That habit is self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage doesn’t always show up as one bad decision in a single major disaster. It often comes to a head after we’ve made multiple, small, poor decisions. One side of the house of cards starts to wobble, and then the whole stack comes down and as we look around – we see the multiple areas of mess in our lives.

It’s easy at times like this to pronounce our lives a disaster, and to believe that nothing we do helps, and that all of this is definitely not fair.

Before we throw our hands in the air, get angry at everyone around us, and declare that the principles we’ve studied and committed to simply don’t work; it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Did any of this mess come at our own hands?

More than likely the answer to this is “yes“. And the way to avoid this in the future is to start right now.

I referenced the movie The Secret above, and it’s a good visual to keep in our heads as I explain this concept. Too often, when we are first studying spiritual metaphysics, we use the principles, like the Law of Circulation, the Law of Abundance, the concept of manifesting, being provided, etc. to justify bad decisions on our part. We finance the more expensive car because we need to FEEL like we can afford more to manifest more; we charge (on our credit cards) expensive designer clothing because we can’t POSSIBLY feel prosperous wearing the clothes currently in our closet,… and so on.

Then, when things come crashing down around us we feel righteously mistreated and let down.

If we would like a new car, and decide that we “deserve” a really NICE new car, we may be setting ourselves up for a future financial disaster. We should use our Divinely-bestowed good sense to create a realistic budget and purchase a vehicle that we like, that meets our needs AND that we can easily and effortlessly afford. This may mean that we buy a pre-owned car, or a model that is slightly less “decked-out“, or even a different brand. A vehicle is primarily a tool to help us get safely and conveniently from Point A to Point B. It does not need to be a rocking and rolling testament to our prosperity goals.

Another danger zone can exist in our careers, such as when we decide to leave one job and take another, or go into business for ourselves. It is easy to find many things to complain about in our current roles and workplaces: that’s human nature. And it can be tempting to want to “follow our bliss” Joseph Campbell style; but we should remember (again) not to check our Divinely-appointed good sense at the door on the way out.

Life is not meant to be one glamorous, exciting moment after another. There are a lot (a LOT!) of mundane, boring and even challenging days that are strung together in between the mountaintop moments. We must learn how to differentiate the normal down cycles from a nudge by Spirit that it’s time to go.

Still another example can come when we don’t know “when to say when“. Many reading this will think back to a commercial on TV about drinking and driving, and while that can certainly be an apropos situation to reference, I’m actually thinking of things like the impulse to adopt “one more pet“, or to take on “one more volunteer job” or to go back to school for “one more degree” – and there are many other similar examples that I could cite.

The fallout from any one of these examples may be mostly positive, and add a net benefit to our lives, but any one of these could ALSO be the straw that threatens to break the proverbial camel’s back. The tricky part is that they seem like such innocuous decisions, and we can easily fall into believing that “it’s ALL Good” without thinking far enough ahead to project out all the potential consequences.

One problem in these scenarios is that if we talk to others, most people will say “that’s WONDERFUL!” or “what a FABULOUS idea!” or some similar, positive and supportive platitude. While ALL of these are potentially wonderful and fabulous ideas, no one knows my life, my limitations, my circumstances like I do. This means that I and I alone have the responsibility to make sure that I look at my life and honestly assess if this decision is a good one – regardless of what ANYONE else thinks.

I have to be honest with myself about the number of HOURS in each day, and how many I would like to have for sleep and rest. I need to be honest with myself about my budget, looking clearly at my current expenses and bills, as well as income. I must be honest with myself about my ability to fit “one more thing” into my days, weeks, and life. If I am NOT honest with myself, it is ME who will pay for that down the road.

If I am NOT honest with myself, there’s no amount of spiritual practice that will add more hours to my days, make me magically able to sleep less and still be able to think critically. If I am NOT honest with myself, prosperity practices aside, I will have to manage the consequences of spending beyond my means.

In traditional religious circles it is not unusual to hear “God helps those that help themselves“. This is also TRUE in metaphysical spiritual circles, but there can be a tendency to expect our new-found spiritual practices to make up for all our bad choices – and that is a mistake.

Emerson wrote that “the dice of God are always loaded“. This means that the Infinite Spirit stands at the ready to support us, uplift us, and move us forward. Still, we have to do our part by using our brains, and practicing self-discipline.

When we find ourselves bemoaning all the bad luck and upheaval we’ve been experiencing, we should stop, take a deep breath and an honest look at how our own actions, behaviors and choices have factored into our current situation. I know (from my own experiences as well as those of others) that when we get our act together, Spirit meets us MORE than halfway, and our lives improve significantly.

Metaphysical spiritual practices are not magic spells that clean up the messes we leave in our wake: they are TOOLS that we must learn how to use to get the most efficient results. Learning to effectively apply these tools requires us to do our part. When we finally figure this out; doors open, paths unfold in front of us and the real “magic” of metaphysical spirituality shows up in our lives.

(C) 2021 Practitioner's Path

Monday musings – 3

Another shot from South Beach Miami – this one from the balcony of a hotel where a vendor party was in full swing. I wasn’t interested in the drinks or the hors d’oeuvres as much as this terrific photo opportunity!

A few months after I got back home, I found a quote from 20th century mystic Neville Goddard that paired perfectly with this “full moon shot“.

Learning to trust

Stories from the biblical canon serve as a deep resource for faith and hope – even in these high tech and modern times. Tonight I was remembering the story of Naaman, who was cured of leprosy. Here’s a quick recap:

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Melachim II

How often have we reached out for a spiritual solution to a problem, and then questioned the validity of the answers that came? I would imagine that this happens more times than we would like to admit.

Very often the answers to our most ardent prayers look VERY different than we had imagined. Sometimes they look like non-answers, such as the time I sought more long-term career stability and ended up with a $30,000 pay cut. Other times it can seem that our “connection” must be bad, as Spirit couldn’t POSSIBLY be pointing us in this direction when there are at least 3 other options that we know would be just as good, if not better and a whole lot EASIER.

Growing in faith and strengthening our connection to the Divine requires that we cultivate trust in that still, small voice that nudges us, ever so gently, to our Good. To do this we must practice listening. The best way to hone our skills in this area is to establish regular spiritual practices like meditation or spending time in quiet contemplation; engaging in random acts of kindness, goodness and peace – such as practicing patience and forgiveness – with ourselves and with others; and by giving of ourselves to those who can never give anything in return or help us in any way.

As we engage in spiritual practices such as the ones I have noted above (& others), we begin to “speak Spirit” which means that we fine tune our ability to hear that still, small voice; to feel the nearly-imperceptible nudges that come along to point the way – to tap into what Ernest Holmes referred to as that “power for Good in the Universe“.

Naaman is clearly new to this power as he argues about which river to dip himself into. In fact, he gets a little grouchy about it until some of his servants come to him and encourage him to listen to the prophet and do what he says.

We can learn much from the story of Naaman, and catch ourselves the next time we are seeking, hoping and praying for something, and feel the energies of “that’s not what I asked for” or “that doesn’t make any sense” or “I have a better idea” creep into our awareness. These are signs that we may be RESISTING the demonstration of our Good because it isn’t happening the way we want it to happen.

Mike Dooley, who was featured in the hit movie The Secret, calls this “messing with the cursed HOW’s“.

If we accept that there is a power for Good in the Universe – greater than we are – and believe that we can use It for our Good and the highest Good for all; we must ALSO accept that this Power knows more, knows better and sees a much bigger picture than we can.

In my bio I wrote that “… readers should be aware that none of these teachings imply or should be interpreted to mean that following these principles/teachings guarantees a life without difficulty. Life still happens – good, bad and otherwise. Spiritual metaphysics is a way of life that helps us learn to respond and live more peacefully, fully – in spite of the things happening around us.

While I have learned that I can absolutely rely on the Infinite for all my Good, I also know that sometimes the answer to my cries for help lie at the end of a dark and difficult road.

When we learn to walk in Spirit, we move forward through the difficulties we encounter, knowing that we are never alone and assured that we are always provided – no matter what it looks like.

The story of Naaman reminds us that the road to the blessings we seek may not always make sense, or be convenient; but if we can humble ourselves, trust in the Infinite Wisdom, and follow the path we are shown – healing from even the most dreadful of circumstances can be ours.

(C) 2021 Practitioner's Path

Monday musings – 2

It seems somehow appropriate to feature a palm tree on the day after Palm Sunday. I photographed this beautiful tree in San Diego a couple years ago when I was there for a retreat. I was inspired to pair this photo with a quote by Nona Brooks – one of the mothers of American New Thought.

There are a few reasons that the palm trees – I have photographed them from Florida to California – remind me of the Omnipresent Spirit. One reason is that once I aligned my thinking, my daily practice, my default thinking with the Truth that we are never alone; things in my life began to unfold in a much greater way that included opportunities to travel to the places that are home to these beautiful expressions in nature.

Small group theory

In my previous blog post I suggested that the success seen in larger metaphysical spiritual organizations cannot be used as “proof” that metaphysical spiritual organizations can be successful based on the teachings, alone. In that piece I cited one issue – the numbers – which makes long-term sustainability a challenge. In this post I am going to explore the dynamics of small groups, which is what a small church or center is in the most sociological of terms.

“A Group is a formation of at least two people who come together in a given purpose, communicate with each other, affect each other and are dependent on each other. To be a group, a crowd should have common objectives and norms, but also they should be feeling themselves as a group.

Gençer (Universal Journal of Educational Research 7(1): 223-229, 2019)

Of late, I have observed that some small centers or metaphysical churches function more like ladies garden clubs than spiritual learning centers. They attract people of similar age and (loosely) similar sociocultural demographics; and the activities in the group tend to blur into the activities that the members would be partaking in whether they were members in a spiritual organization or not. In other words, they are primarily SOCIAL groups made up of people who happen to share a similar spiritual orientation instead of being SPIRITUAL groups that gather for the sake of support and learning.

While this can be a STRENGTH in a small group, it is also a challenge for growth. The rise of the megachurch and its success in the United States has been associated with their strategic use of small groups to keep people connected and engaged. Still, even in the evangelical crowd there is a caution around small groups:

“[One] risk for small groups is crossing the line from intimacy to cliquishness.”

Baylor University, Media & Public Relations (news)

According to Dictionary.com, the word ‘clique‘ is defined as: “a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.”

(cue the gasps and clutching of pearls)

There will be a lot of pushback on that statement, I know, but hear me out.

Yes, spiritual organizations position themselves to be open and welcoming to new members, but a lack of understanding around the psychology of small groups can lead to confusion, frustration and failure.

“One of the most important features that identifies the structure of the group is members’ adherences to the group. Adherence can be described as the desire of the individual to be a member of the group. In a group in which the adherence is high, the group members are pleased with each other and motivated to stay in the group.

Gençer (Universal Journal of Educational Research 7(1): 223-229, 2019)

From a strictly clinical perspective, when we have a spiritual organization that is, for all intents and purposes, a small group, only – we run the risk of it being clique-ish and unappealing to potential new members. People often believe that in their small groups they are open and warm and welcoming, and in the cases of small groups I have known over the years, this is true. What they don’t realize is that it’s not their hearts new members are evaluating.

Here’s an example:

A number of years ago, at a small metaphysical spiritual organization, a new person showed up to the Sunday morning service. This group met in a dingy, musty-smelling upstairs room of a crumbling building. The young woman entered the main meeting room (“sanctuary“) and was welcomed. She sat at the back of the room and was observed to be taking it all in with some discomfort. At the end of the service, she chatted briefly and then made her escape.

In the short time she was there, she shared that she had just moved into the area from the East Coast, where she had attended a metaphysical spiritual center, and was looking for a spiritual community in her new town. Clearly, what she encountered that morning was not what she was looking for and she was never heard from or seen by that congregation again.

The life-changing teachings of spiritual metaphysics were not enough to draw her into the group, let alone keep her. She looked at the group of people (all at least 2 decades older than she was), the surroundings (not representative of a teaching that incorporates prosperity as a principle) and others things and did not see anything that resonated with her – even though this group would tell you that it prides itself in being open, welcoming and supportive of anyone who comes.

This group was welcoming and friendly; and it taught the principles of religious science without any “fluff“. So why didn’t it ever grow much past 10 to 15 people? I am suggesting that it is due to their lack of understanding around the small group dynamic and I think this is in play in many small congregations across the country.

In this example, the young woman came to the Sunday service because she shared some “common objectives and norms” (Gençer) with the teachings featured in that group (religious science); but when she got there, she realized – I believe instantly – that she was not going to ever be able to see herself as part of that group. In the language of Gençer’s research, she had no desire to be a member of the group.

Her desire to be a part of a spiritual metaphysics group was not enough to motivate her to become a part of a small group that she had no other connection to or interest in.

One challenge to understanding all of this is that people on the INSIDE of a group stay on the inside because that group is working for them. Except in the most rare circumstances, people on the inside cannot see beyond what’s working for them to consider that it might not work for others. This is where the open, inclusive spiritual group fades away and the clique behavior kicks in.

So it comes down to this: if I’m interested in metaphysical spiritual principles, and there’s a small spiritual organization in my area, and I don’t “mesh” with them on a personal level (that small group), I probably won’t join in as a member.

I may stop by occasionally, and participate in things here and there, but if I’m not “feeling” it, my motivation to be a part of that group is and will remain low. This is further complicated by the fact that the Internet of Things (IoT) brings all the metaphysical spiritual teachings to me on my schedule, and without requiring me to hang out with people with whom I do not resonate, share common experiences or feel a connection.

The reason we don’t see this to be an issue in terms of growth and maintenance in larger spiritual organizations is that there are generally MULTIPLE small groups available. If one doesn’t resonate, another one might. There are OPTIONS in a larger spiritual organization for people to find that “fit” with a small group, and to identify one that they have a desire to join as a member, and feel a motivation to participate and remain.

I suspect that if research was done in larger organizations, you would see some movement in and out of small groups for the same reasons that we see movement in and out of small congregations. The problem for smaller organizations is that very often, the congregation is the small group, and as illustrated in my example above, this will work for some; but not for everyone. And I suspect that the degree to which it will work for larger numbers of people is inversely proportional to the degree of homogeneity of the small group.

In other words, if a group is comprised of people with similar wants, desires, backgrounds, goals, preferences, lifestyles, perspectives (etc.) it is harder for new people to join and less likely they will find traction. I know a group where endless conversations are had about “growing the center” – but the small group that makes up the congregation is predominantly retired, older White women. Activities preferred by this group align with the preferences of retired, older White women. Decisions for future planning are voted up and down based on the oversized influence of retired, older White women so it should be no surprise that working people, young families and men and women of all races don’t flock to join this small group.

Yes, the teachings of New Thought are life-changing, and a powerful Good when we can incorporate them into our lives. But the teachings alone are not enough to overcome the sociological norms of small groups, and this brings me to one possible answer as to why New Thought, as a movement, has failed to mature; and why “it has become such a mixed bag of experiences, teachings, approaches, and atmospheres that has no visible unifying presence.

When we understand the dynamics of the small group, and recognize the wide availability and access to the principles of spiritual metaphysics due to technology, we can see a diminishing NEED for organized spiritual metaphysics. People are able to adopt, study and practice the principles in their own already-established small groups where they already share a connection and feel a motivation to belong to the group. Sometimes this is a family group, while other times it is a group of friends, colleagues or others that we have naturally connected with in life. This, more than anything else, is why when we look at the lackluster growth in organized New Thought we see, as Jim Lockard wrote, “the felt sense of overall community at the organizational level and among the organizations is very tenuous at best.” The organizations and overall community exist outside of and totally separate from the organized New Thought infrastructure.

It is clear that the PRINCIPLES of spiritual metaphysics are successful and here to stay. They are showing up in professional development seminars, books on leadership, success guides for college students and more. Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and many others charted the path to making these teachings open and accessible to the world – and the world has responded.

What the world has NOT responded to is the continued expectation that people will affiliate with, support (tithe) and attend weekly Sunday services and midweek classes in the old school model of religious science. And so I continue to ask the hard questions:

I know the answer(s), and if you’re reading this and getting angry or upset; you do too. Research can explain this anger, reminding us that “When group interests, creeds, or dogmas are threatened by unwelcome factual information, biased thinking becomes denial.” We saw this (and are still seeing it) in American politics, but it’s also present in a big way in the leadership of organized New Thought.

Climate change is not a hoax.

The Coronavirus is not “just the flu“.

Bill Gates did not insert a tracking microchip in the COVID vaccines.

And organized New Thought is never going to return to its previous structure or strength – for many reasons.

We can be ANGRY, and go get red trucker hats that say “Spiritual Growth Only Happens in Church” – or we can accept the facts, embrace the inevitability of change, and live our best lives – in part due to our understanding of metaphysical spiritual principles – and do so in the small groups that we (already) connect with best.

That’s just the way it is.

(C) 2021 Practitioner’s Path

Asking the right questions

Recently I found myself reminiscing about when I first walked into a New Thought center/church. I was not on hard times, or in desperate straights, but I was clearly seeking something “more“.

I found one of the (2) New Thought centers in my area, and showed up one Sunday. I was welcomed into the class that was running (based on Louise Hay’s healing principles) and began attending weekly services.

I recall feeling giddy with the excitement of what I was learning, and over-the-Moon when things started to line up and work out in my life. I was definitely drinking the Kool Aid.

This was more than 9 years ago and as I look back on that time period, I see a lot of learning and growth, but also sadness.

At the time, I was CERTAIN that everyone would want to learn this stuff, and join this organization. I would soon find that this is not the case. It took me some time to accept that fact, and longer to understand it.

When I first began to see some cracks in the veneer, I attributed them to local decisions, or individual contributions. After years of study, contemplation, and discussions with people on both sides of the issue, I have come to the conclusion that those cracks were symptoms, not root causes.

In several earlier blog posts I have referenced Mitch Horowitz’s forward to Harv Bishop’s book, “New Thought (R)evolution” where he wrote: “New Thought, in its churches, books, and internal dialogues, has failed to mature.

I have held this perspective for a long time, and wondered if anyone else was seeing the same things. I also simultaneously wondered HOW a teaching so life-changing could falter so badly in getting traction. I would come to believe that this is due to MANY factors, internal and external: some fixable, and others out of our control.

Going back to my early experience in New Thought, I remember how I looked forward to spending time with the teachers and practitioners of this “new” (to me) practice and was sad when a class came to an end or was cancelled one week. I looked forward to Sunday morning where I would hear another lesson, and have lunch with like-minded folks after the service. I also began to learn that hundreds of people had once, like me, come into this teaching – full immersion in the way I was – but had left, and were no longer regular participants.

Most of these people had not moved away or died, but had simply fallen away from participation with the center. For some time, I did not understand. Yes, there were personality issues that came into play, but as someone who spent my childhood in churches with family who served in lay leadership positions, I knew that the tussles of interpersonal dynamics were a part of life, and rarely fatal.

Across town, the other New Thought center also met its demise (the one I attended has come to the brink of extinction twice since 2012), and contributed to the population of former New Thought center members in the region. The appearance of something larger than misaligned personalities or bad business practices began to emerge.

In a recent blog post annotated as the 1st in a series, noted New Thought leader Jim Lockard wrote the following:

“We often ask why New Thought hasn’t grown consistently in the past half-century. Perhaps it is because it has become such a mixed bag of experiences, teachings, approaches, and atmospheres that has no visible unifying presence – the felt sense of overall community at the organizational level and among the organizations is very tenuous at best.” 

Jim Lockard, New Thought Evolutionary

Clearly, some of the same nagging thoughts I have harbored are tickling the consciousness of other, high-profile New Thought minds. The wisdom I have gained from reading other’s work in combination with the observations I am making in real (pandemic) time have led me to the following conclusions:

The teachings outlined by MANY across history, and codified in a uniquely American culture as New Thought are indeed life-changing, but…

  1. in New Thought, the core principles are often wrapped in varying contexts that are unique to different ministers, centers and locations. In support of Jim Lockard’s statement (quoted above), in different centers/regions we can find:
    • “fundamentalist” (hard core purist) religious science practice
    • middle of the road religious science practice
    • tarot cards, pendulums, crystals, psychics and others openly advertised at the center
    • teachings that lean toward Christianity
    • teachings that draw heavily on Abraham-Hicks/Law of Attraction
    • teachings that draw heavily on the work of Louise Hay
    • centers that widely incorporate other teachings (e.g. Edgar Cayce’s work)
    • and many other contexts/practices
  2. the general New Thought teachings are simple, but not always easy to employ because they require:
    • self-awareness
    • self-discipline (for making change and sticking to it)
    • dedication to the new ways of being
    • letting go of old habits
  3. once we learn what we need to do, revisiting the same reminders/stories/classes over and over and over begins to return increasingly diminishing value
    • we don’t need to LEARN what to do – we’ve been there and have (paid for) multiple T-shirts
    • we need to APPLY the principles in our day-to-day lives – and that’s something we do for ourselves (no one else can do this for us)
  4. hearing the 100th iteration of a variation on a story of how “this stuff works” doesn’t make it magically easier to do

In other words, the “magic” – if you want to call it that – lies not in hearing the principles again and again and again and again; but in our ability to understand them, and our willingness to incorporate them in our daily lives.

Once we learn that the “magical transformation” is our work to do, we may find that we have a wholly different relationship with the metaphysical center or church. If we engaged to LEARN and “fix” our lives, and we’ve learned what we came to learn – we may no longer find much value in the repeated Sunday morning “sermons” (often by people who haven’t yet figured out how to apply the principles to fix their own lives), or class after class that is teaching the same basic thing, wrapped in different examples, author language and context.

I have no doubt that the core content of spiritual metaphysics is a powerful good. The question is how often do we need to hear the same basic lesson before the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in?

Some will point to successful metaphysical churches or centers and ask if those are so resilient, why are other metaphysical churches or centers struggling? The answer has much less to do with the CONTENT of the sermons or classes and a LOT to do with the personalities, the programming and the population (number of people).

The successful organizations are successful as SOCIAL groups. People have built relationships, and the leadership teams have been savvy about creating programming that people are interested in (beyond Sunday morning and weeknight SOM classes). This means that people are finding VALUE in continuing their affiliation with the organization beyond the basic spiritual learning.

This allows an organization to continue functioning, add more resources, and serve people at varying levels in their personal growth and development. We see these larger, successful organizations meeting the needs of new seekers, mid-growth learners and established sojourners because they have the depth of resources ($) to be many things to many people.

This is often mistakenly seen as “proof” that the PRINCIPLES alone are the foundation of a successful New Thought church or center, and here is where I disagree.

The wildly successful centers and churches are thriving for predominantly local reasons. They likely have the same attrition seen in smaller churches and centers, but they have built strong enough foundations to withstand that and continue on. In simpler terms, they have the financial wherewithal to be the “many things to many people” mentioned above.

An organization with an average of 15 people who attend regularly that has a drop/add rate of 20% to 30% (2 to 5 people) meaning that there is a core group, and from 2 to 5 people who cycle in as new attendees, and from 2 to 5 people who cycle out (not always the same people); has very little bandwidth to do much programming beyond a Sunday service and a midweek class. AND,… what often happens is the same, small group of people attend the classes, the workshops and Sunday services. It’s not surprising that at some point, even the most dedicated adherents become weary and are at risk for stepping back or leaving due to exhaustion and burnout. It’s also important to point out that the likelihood of a full-time, paid minister with only 10 to 12 core members is quite low, which means that maintaining the organization falls on that small member group.

There’s a lot more room to sustain and support this natural cycle without upending business operations in larger organizations. Let’s consider the same assumptions (20% – 30% turnover) for a congregation of 150.

Instead of 10 to 12 people sustaining the activities, there are 100 to 120 people, which is an entirely different model and outcome, even with the same attrition rate. And this assumption does not take into account the variances in personality, charisma and ability to lead that differ from person to person which can add additional downward pressure on smaller organizations that have fewer options. These differences are dwarfed even further in models where the congregation is 1,500. The influx and outflow in these organizations will be barely noticed, and will have a limited impact on the operations of the center or church.

Still, we keep looking at the handful of large and seemingly-successful New Thought centers and churches and we assume if THEY can do it, anyone can. It is this assumption that I believe is being falsely referenced as “proof” that New Thought centers and churches are not on the endangered species list.

Years of data continue to suggest the following:

  • New Thought churches/centers and organizations have failed to mature (Horowitz).
  • New Thought is a mixed bag of experiences, teachings, approaches, and atmospheres that has no visible unifying presence (Lockard).
  • What we believe to be causal of success in large organizations is not readily duplicated in small organizations, which strongly suggests that we are not making correct assumptions about the success factors in New Thought organizations.

All of this comes down to one question that has not yet been answered: once people have learned the basic principles and incorporated them into their lives, what does the New Thought Church/Center have to offer?

The old model of “teaching certificated classes and churning out Practitioners” isn’t universally working the way it did in the mid to latter 20th century. Continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results is,… (we all know that that is).

I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing to offer or that nothing is being offered in struggling centers; but I think that this question needs to be asked and discussed on Boards and among leaders. My research suggests that the question about what the New Thought Church/Center has to offer someone who’s already incorporated the teachings into their lives isn’t even on the radar – let alone being actively engaged. The future, if New Thought is to have one as a movement, may well depend on the ability to ask – and honestly answer – this question.

I’ll be exploring this further in a future post.

(C) 2021 Practitioner's Path

Monday musings

For the past couple of years I’ve been creating snapshots of spiritual wisdom using my own photographs (taken with my iPhone) and sharing them through a weekly email list serv through a group called Blackbirds Rising that sends out a daily “pick me up” called their ‘Daily Thing‘. I have accumulated such a collection of these images that I have decided to feature one each Monday as a way to kick off the work week with some wisdom and positivity.

I’m kicking this off with one of my favorite shots – from an early morning on South Beach Miami – with a quote from Florence Scovel Shinn.