Earl Nightingale: As a Man Thinketh

This is a transcription of audio record by Earl Nightingale. You can listen to it at the bottom of the post.

Hello, this is Earl Nightingale. Some time ago I did a radio broadcast called “The Greatest Things” designed to help us remember what in life is important and what isn’t. It was an attempt to put the ideas of a number of philosophers into a very simple form. The greatest puzzle? Life. The greatest mistake? Giving up. The greatest comfort? Work well done. And so forth. As a radio program it was a success.

Thousands of people wrote in for printed copies of the script but afterwards, as I often do, I wish I’d mentioned one more thing. In this case, the greatest journey. I would have said I decided that the greatest journey is the journey of the mind, since this is what determines the journey of life. Have you ever had the feeling that your mind is on a journey, a voyage of discovery? That sometimes it has to make long passages on dark, uncharted seas? And at other times it discovers bright islands of beauty or of truth? Islands that will now from this day forward that it can always steer for and find in the storm while the gales of life blow themselves out in the enormous seas of misfortune or pain or sorrow or doubt, subside in the calm.

Well if you will come, I’d like to take you with me on such a voyage of the mind, one that was charted for me many years ago by an obscure English editor and poet named James Allen in a little book called “As a Man Thinketh.” Now James Allen, although he published 17 books one of which has appeared in at least 10 editions and sold over a million copies, was not, is not a famous man. Why? Well your guess is as good as mine. It may be because James Allen was a so-called Victorian Englishman lumped in with a group who, because of the writings of certain historians, are more or less generally regarded as complacent, self-satisfied products of a comfortable age which produced fat bellies with heads to match.  I’ve never felt that way about late Victorians. There’s too much evidence that they were anything but complacent.

I think they considered themselves running scared, just as we often do. They didn’t have an H bomb but they did have a population explosion and a rush to the cities. Their population increased more than a third in the last generation of the 19th century and their cities almost doubled. So great was the tension, nervousness, and social upheaval engendered by the rapidly changing times that the government created a special commission on lunacy and there was a rash of quasi-religious movements, the kind that almost always flow into the vacuums of social dilemma.

No, the language of the Victorians like Tennyson and Kipling may have been somewhat flowery by our standards, but their life and times were no bed of roses. Another reason why James Allen is not in Websters’ Biographic may be his warranted or unwarranted inclusion in another group, variously tagged as exponents of 19th century individualism and so-called mind cure. This group ran the gamut from Horatio Alger to Ralph Waldo Trime. James Allen was a reporter. Journalist was the more appropriate term in his day, and I think he was infused with the sort of world consciousness and I suspect that, like Kipling, he took an interest in the religious writings of other races and cultures. The Hindu Upanishads and probably the Confucian, Buddhist and Mohammedan books too.

But I’m not sure and perhaps we’ll never know. I’ve written to his publishers and to the village where he lived in an effort to learn more about him but the sum of my factual knowledge at this point is rather small. He was born in 1864 and died in 1912, a true late Victorian. He was a reporter and in later life the editor of a magazine called “The Epic”. Mainly he was an essayist, a sort of how-to book writer and a poet and sometimes as an essayist he strikes me as very fine indeed. I should qualify that opinion by disclaiming any pretentions to literary criticism.

My literary tastes are often decidedly unliterary. Unlike the critics, I’m most often happily oblivious to flaws in style and language if the author’s ideas hit me where I live. I consider James Allen’s most popular book “As a Man Thinketh” a fine piece of writing, a beautiful essay on an important theme. More significant, I believe it represents one of the effective kinds of verbal communication. It speaks often very poetically to some mystic quality in each of us, that quality that seems to discern truth. Listen to these little poems which are the beginning and end pieces of “As a Man Thinketh”:

“Mind is the master power that molds and makes, and man is mind and ever more he takes the tool of thought and shaping what he wills, brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills. He thinks in secret and it comes to pass environment is but his looking glass. And finally, tempest cost souls wherever you may be under whatsoever conditions you may live, know this. In the ocean of life the isles of blessedness are smiling. The sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hand firmly on the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding master. He does but sleep. Wake him. Self control is strength. Thought is mastery. Calmness is power. Say into your heart, peace be still.”

Now you may say that’s all very well. I appreciate poetry and I believe in truth but is it relevant that truth I’m interested are those that speak to my personal situation or at least to the times in which I live? What in the world has an obscure 19th century philosopher got to do with me?

Well consider this, some of our important contemporary philosophers tell us that man today is entering a new era, one they call the age of unity. They say that now for the first time the barriers between thought and actuality are beginning to disappear. For the past two or three thousand years, great philosophers and teachers have been showing their fellow humans how life on this small planet Earth could be improved but during most of this period, man’s control of his environment has been very limited. Today this is no longer true. If man thinks he might like to unmake the atom, he does. If he thinks of living in the depths of the oceans, going to the moon or voyaging in outer space, he does. The problem then is no longer what man can do, it becomes what man can think. The words you will hear are essentially those of James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh”. Thought and character. The aphorism “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all this thoughts. As the plant springs from and could not be without the seed, so the acts of a man spring from the hidden seeds of thought and could not have appeared without them.

This applies to those acts called spontaneous and unpremeditated as well as to those which are deliberately executed. Act is the blossom of thought and joy and suffering are its fruits. Thus does a man garner in the sweet and bitter fruitage of his own husbandry. Thought in the mind hath madeth. What we are by thought was wrought and built. If a man’s mind hath evil thoughts, pain comes on him as comes to wheel the ox behind. If man endures in purity of thought, joy follows him as his own shadow sure. Man grows by the law, not by artifice and cause and effect are absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible and material things. A noble character is not a thing of favour or chance but is the natural result on continued effort in thought. The effect of long-cherished association with high ideals. And ignoble character by the same process is the result of the continued harbouring of groveling thoughts. Man is made or unmade by himself.

In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools by which he builds for himself heavenly mentions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, men ascends toward divine perfection. By the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character and man is their maker and master. Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul which have been stored and brought to life, none is more gladdening or fruitful of divine promise and comfort than this. That man is the master of thought, the molder of character and the maker and shaper of condition, environment and destiny.

As a being of power, intelligence and love, and the lord of his own thoughts, men hold the key to every situation and contains within himself the transforming and regenerative agency by which he may make himself what he wills. Men is always the master, even in his weakest and most abandoned state but in weakness and degradation he is the foolish master who misgoverns his household. When he begins to reflect upon his condition and to search diligently for the law upon which his being is established, he then becomes the wise master directing his energies with intelligence and fashioning his thoughts to fruitful issues such as the conscious master. And man can only thus become by discovering within himself the laws of thought which discovery is totally a matter of application, self-analysis, and experience.

Only by searching and mining are golden diamonds obtained and man can find every truth connected with his being if you dig deep into the mine of his soul. And that he is the maker of his character, the molder of his life, and the builder of his destiny, he may unerringly prove if he will watch, control and alter his thoughts, tracing their effects upon himself, upon others and upon his life and circumstances, linking cause and effect by patient practice and investigation and utilizing his every experience even to the most trivial everyday occurrence as a means of obtaining that knowledge of himself, which is understanding, wisdom, power. In this direction, as in no other, is the law absolute that he that seekth, findeth and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. For only by patience, practice and ceaseless opportunity can a man enter the door of the temple of knowledge. The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the orders of the mind, whether they be deliberate or automatic. At the bidding of evil and miserable thoughts, the body may sink rapidly into disease and decay. At the command of glad and beautiful thoughts, it may clothe itself with youthfulness and beauty. Disease and health, like circumstances, are often rooted in thought. Sick thoughts may express themself through a sick body. In Aboriginal societies, thoughts of fear have been known to kill a man as speedily as a bullet and they are continually killing thousands of people in our society just as surely, though less rapidly.

People who live in fear of disease are apt to become ill. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body and lays it open to illness and disease while evil thoughts, even though they be no more than that, will soon shatter the nervous system. Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build vigour and grace. The body is a sensitive, plastic instrument which conforms readily to the thoughts with which it is governed and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it. Out of a clean mind comes a clean life and a clean body. Out of a defiled mind proceeds a defiled life and a corrupt body. Thought is the fount of action, life and manifestation. Make the fountain pure and the stream of life with flow greater purity. Change of diet will little help a man who will not change his thoughts. When a man makes his thoughts healthy, he no longer desires unhealthy food. Clean thoughts make clean, healthy habits. The so-called saint who does not wash his body may well not be a saint. If you would perfect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind. Thoughts of malice, envy, disappointment, despondency can rob your body of its health and grace.

A sour face does not come by chance, it is made by sour thoughts. Wrinkles that mar are drawn by folly, pride, and passion. I know a woman of 96 who has the bright, innocent face of a girl. I know a man well under middle age whose face is drawn into inharmonious contours. The one is the result of a sweet and sunny disposition, the other is the outcome of bad temper and discontent. As you cannot have a sweet and wholesome abode unless you admit the air and sunshine freely into your rooms, so a strong body and a bright, happy, serene continence can only result from a free admittance into the mind of thoughts of joy and goodwill and serenity. On the faces of the aged, there are wrinkles made by sympathy, others by strong and pure thought and others are carved by arrogance and resentment. Who cannot distinguish them? With those who have lived thoughtfully, age is calm, peaceful and softly mellow like the setting sun. I have recently seen a philosopher on his deathbed. He was not old except in years. He died as sweetly and peacefully as he lived.

There’s no physician like cheerful thought for dissipating the arrows of malcontent. There is no comforter to compare with goodwill for dispersing the shadows of grief and sorrow. To live continually in thoughts of ill will, cynicism, suspicion and envy is to be confined in a self-made prison hole but to think well of all, to be cheerful with all, to patiently learn to find the good in all is to live inside of the very portals of heaven. And day by day thoughts of peace start every creature will bring abounding peace to their possessor. Thought and circumstances in men’s mind may be likened to a garden which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild but whether cultivated or neglected, it must end well, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein and will continue to produce their kind. Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong and useless thoughts and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of ripe, useful and pure thoughts. By pursing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also reveals within himself the laws of thought and understands with ever increasing accuracy how his mind operates in the shaping of his character, circumstances and destiny.

Thought and character are one and as character can only manifest and discover itself through environment and circumstance, the outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be related to his inner state. This does not mean that a man’s circumstances at any given time are an indication of an entire character, but that those circumstances are so intimately connected with some vital thought within himself that, for the time being, they are indispensable to his development. Every man is where he is by the law of his being. The thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there and in the arrangement of his life, there is no lasting element of chance but all is the result of a law.

This is just as true of those who are discontented with their surroundings as of those who are contented with them. As an evolving being, man is where he is that he may learn, that he may grow, and as he learns the lesson which any circumstance contains for him, it passes away and gives place to other circumstances. Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be a creature entirely subject to outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself. That circumstances grow out of thought, every man knows who has for any length of time practiced self-control of his mind and thoughts, for he will have noticed that the alteration of his circumstances has been an exact ratio with his altered middle condition.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbours, that which it loves and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own. Every thought seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind and take root there produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts, bad fruit. The outer world of circumstance is shaped but the inner world of thought and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss. Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts by which he allows himself to be dominated, pursuing the will or the wisps of vapid imaginings or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavour, a man at last arrives at their foolish and fulfillment in the outer conditions of his life.



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