I try to be plain with readers and audiences that I am a “believing historian” — that I participate in many of the metaphysical movements and thought schools I write about. This is actually not an unusual thing for a historian, even though most do not announce it.
In addition, I do not view esoteric or alternative spiritual expressions as schisms, set apart from the historic march of faith. Rather, many non-traditional spiritual movements provide novel means and new windows on the perennial aim of all contemplative religion: refinement of the individual, heightened perception of reality, and the leavening of coarse ideas and relationships into finer ones. Religion, in its true form, aims to elevate the self and restore the individual to his or her highest nature. I do not endeavor to place thought movements in museum cases for classification — rather, I believe that the seeker-historian must be able to identify workable, practical philosophies, which improve human conduct in the here and now. Effectiveness is the currency of any ethical or spiritual program.
In my study of mystical systems and philosophies, the most impactful, elegant, simple, and dramatically challenging outlook I have personally come across emerges from twentieth-century British-Barbadian spiritual philosopher Neville Goddard (1905–1972), who went by his first name. I want to share the core of Neville’s method — and if you attempt it with earnest interest, regardless of whether you follow Neville’s thought to its ultimate extent, your life and perceptions, I am confident, will not remain unchanged.
Three Steps to Truth
Neville believed, simply, that the God of Scripture is a metaphor for the human imagination. All of the stories from Scripture, in both the Old and New Testament, he taught, have no basis in history. The entire Bible is a book of Near-Eastern symbolism, written in a pictographic language that is intended to provide a blueprint for the individual’s inner development. In Neville’s interpretation, the New Testament symbolically tells of God descending into human form. Humanity falls asleep to its own Divine or Christ essence, with the individual — i.e., each one of us — believing himself confined to a limited, coarse world of material parameters. Not yet fully developed, man is crucified in the agony of this forgetfulness — as Christ cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” — only to be gloriously resurrected into the realization of his Divine nature. This potentiality exists within every individual, and this journey from sleep to awareness unfolds in every life, even if multiple recurrences are required for its fruition.
The creative force traditionally called God, Neville concluded, exists solely within you, as your imagination, and is constantly out-picturing your mental images and emotively charged thoughts into reality. This is occurring all the time, as you think, plan, ponder, and fall in and out of emotive states, but you are asleep to it. The aware individual, Neville emphasized, can learn to conjoin his intellect and emotions into the consciously creative act.
Coming to the realization that you, through your imagination, are a branch of the Creator, Neville taught, can bring you into the bloom of powers written about in metaphor in the New Testament, and symbolized in the story of Christ resurrected. I must note that he meant all of this in the most literal sense. There was nothing inexact or qualified in Neville’s thought. He took a jarringly radical stand, and continually challenged his listeners: try it. Try it tonight, he insisted, and if it doesn’t work, disregard me, disregard my philosophy. Prove me wrong.
The method behind Neville’s ideas is reducible to a three-part formula.
1. Every creative act begins with a passionate desire.
Do not be fooled by how easy that sounds. We walk around all day with desires, thinking: I want this and that; I want money; I want sex and romance; I want this person to pay attention to me; I want this achievement; and so on. Yet much of the time, as we’ve seen, we have only superficial understandings of our desires. We’re dishonest about what we truly want, because we often don’t wish to acknowledge, in our innermost hearts, what we really wish for. We live in a society that is, on the surface, filled with personal license and freedom; but we don’t like admitting to ourselves things that we feel are unfitting of a given image we’ve cultivated — a self-image designed to appeal to others, but that may no longer fit us. We also confuse means with desires, sometimes saying we want a certain job, for example, when what we really want is security.
I want to share a personal story, and I’m going to be very personal in this article because I’m describing in Neville a man and a philosophy that is enormously challenging — and enormously practical, if you take this material seriously — and I feel obligated to warranty my words by personal experience. Experience is the empiricism of the inner path, and I will share one of my own that bears upon this first step: clarified desire.
Years ago, I knew a woman who was a well-known psychic — not a household name but widely known. I felt she had an authentic psychical gift. I didn’t like how she treated people. She would manipulate people, bully them, and generally push people around. I didn’t want to get very close to her — but I did feel that she had a true intuitive gift. (People are often lopsided — the possession of keen insight into human affairs does not equate with ethics or empathy.) One evening we were having a conversation in a parking lot somewhere, and she stopped, and said to me: “Do you know what you want? You want power. But your problem is, you have an overdeveloped superego.”
As soon as I heard this I wanted to push it away. And I spent years pushing it away. I thought: “I don’t want power like you. I don’t want the power to push people around, to bully people, to run over people.” And I so recoiled from what she said. But it haunted me. I could never get away from it.
Sometimes we are (and must be) haunted by something unacknowledged within ourselves, something that makes us deeply uncomfortable — but that might be true.
I had to acknowledge, as years passed, that this flawed messenger told the truth. She also provided an example of the kind of power I didn’t want: the power to manipulate and grab. She got me thinking about the power I did want: the ability to exert my will — physically, intellectually, and artistically — in order to see through my plans in the world. And to do so directly, with as few intermediaries as possible. To select relationships based on mutual affinity, respect, and constructiveness, or to forego having a relationship. To fulfill my true debts, but not empty obligations.
When Neville talks about desire, he’s not speaking superficially. He really wants you to get down into the guts of matters, where you might want something that makes you uncomfortable. There are ways we don’t like to see ourselves. But Neville maintains that desire is God speaking to us. And God is us. To walk away from a deep personal yearning is to walk away from God within yourself. In essence, we all want the same thing: to fulfill our essential inner ideals, to exercise, exhibit, and exert ourselves in the natural direction toward which we are always being pulled. And we want to be seen and understood.
I was once in spiritual group where a woman described in a meeting how she had made an ice sculpture outside of her home on a bright winter day. Some friends came to visit in the afternoon, and she was anxious that they see her sculpture before it melted in the sun. She was embarrassed to direct her friends’ attention to it, yet at the same time she was eager for work to be seen. The woman recounted this as a kind of a confession, expressed with remorse over her presumed egotism. I honor the self-disclosure with which she told her story — yet I feel strongly that she had nothing to feel ashamed of, and nothing to confess. She created something beautiful. She had the ability to do so. Why shouldn’t she want her friends to see it — why hide her light under a bushel? Her work made the world more beautiful before the afternoon sun took it, and her act spoke of her to the world; which is to say it spoke of all human creativity.
Self-expression is to be honored. Creative acts are to be seen. Your clarified desire is the language of holiness; it is the urge toward creation. “And God saw that it was good.” Be exquisitely clear, passionate, and forthright about your goals.
2. Your imagination is fertilized in a state of physical immobility.
This is where we start to enact our desires. Creativity begins when we purposefully enter a state of physical immobility. Choose a time of day when you would like to meditate. The time of day Neville chose was 3 p.m. He’d eat lunch, get tired, and willingly enter a sort of drowsy state, usually in an easy chair; though a sofa, bed, or yoga mat would work fine. Now, this is very important, because we often think of meditation as a state of keen awareness or mindfulness. We don’t think of meditation as drowsiness. People use these terms in different ways. Neville believed that we heighten our apparatus of mental creativity when we enter the “in between” state of hypnagogia. The hypnagogic state is the stage between wakefulness and sleep. You’re in it at night just as you’re drifting off; you’re in it in the morning just as you’re coming to. At such times, our minds are deeply sensitive and impressionable.
People who suffer from depression or grief often describe the early morning hours as the most difficult time of day. The reason, I’m convinced, is that our rational defenses are down. We are conscious and have sensory awareness; but we are also in a deeply suggestible, impressionable state, in which emotions are powerfully felt. We lack a sense of proportionality. I can attest from experience that if you are trying to solve a personal problem, never attempt it while laying bed at 5 a.m. Do not. Get up and meditate, or watch television, or do whatever you must, but keep in mind that your logical apparatus is at its ebb and the gremlins of the unconscious are liable to run amuck.
When your analytic mind is at a low point and your emotions are churning, it is a very difficult time to confront problems, or attempt acts of perspective. But it is also, and for the same reasons, a propitious time to visualize your desires. With your rational barriers down, your mind, if properly harnessed, can take you in remarkable directions. For example, psychical researchers have made the extraordinary finding, studied under strict conditions, that when subjects are induced into a state of relaxed hypnagogia, usually through comfortable sensory deprivation, the mind is found to possess heightened abilities of extra-physical communication.
Neville said to enter a state of physical immobility of this sort. You may find it easiest to do just before you go to sleep at night. He didn’t say to do it in the morning, but I think we can extrapolate that’s a viable time, too. You can do it during a time that you set aside for meditating, as long as you’re comfortable and undisturbed, and can uninhibitedly enter a very relaxed physical state. If you have difficulty relaxing, as many people do, allow the body to take over naturally by entering and becoming aware of this state before drifting off at night. You will, however, need to do the next step — step three — before falling asleep, because it requires a measure of conscious control over your thoughts.
3. Form a vivid, simple mental scene of your desire fulfilled.
A woman at one of Neville’s Los Angeles lectures told him that she yearned to be married — what should she do? He told her to enact the feeling of a ring on her finger. Just that. Mentally assume the feeling of a ring on your finger, in a very simple way. Feel its weight, the density of the band, and maybe feel yourself spinning it around on your finger. Don’t do anything physically, just feel it.
What you do want? Maybe you want something from another individual. Enact a scene that implies its fulfillment. Maybe just a handshake — something that communicates that you’ve received what you wanted, that it’s done. Do not see yourself doing this action as if you’re watching it on a screen. You must feel yourself in the action, and see it from the perspective of actually performing it. You’re not watching, you’re performing. If I want to imagine myself climbing a ladder, Neville said, I do not see myself climbing a ladder — I climb!
Make your mental scene very basic; it keeps the mind from wandering. Identify one clear physical action that communicates the attainment of your goal, and then think and feel from that end. Always think from the end of the goal fulfilled. Neville told people that when you open your eyes, you’ll be back here, in the ordinary world, which you might not want to be in; but if you persist in this practice, your assumption will eventually harden into fact. If you want to be in Paris and your open your eyes and you’re still in Queens, you may be disappointed. But keep doing it. An extraordinary event, he taught, will unfold to secure what you have pictured.
One point must be clarified — and this point must be stated more clearly throughout New Thought culture in general. Neville noted that the visual state must also be accompanied by an emotive state. The positive-thinking movement often errs in equating thoughts with emotions. They are entirely different. I have a physical existence, I have an intellectual existence, and I have an emotional existence. The reason we feel so torn apart is because these things are all going their own way. I say that I’m not going to eat something — well, the body wants to eat it, and next thing it’s my mouth. I resolve to be calm — but the emotions are furious, and I experience an outburst. I determine that I’m going to think, to use my intellect — but my passions are running off doing something else.
When you enact your mental picture of fulfillment, you must experience the emotions that you would feel in your state of achievement. This method may come naturally to some people, including those who are actors. Neville himself was an actor and performer. Anyone who has studied Method Acting learns to use an inner monologue to enter an emotional state. That’s a useful exercise. You must get your emotions into play. Let’s say you want a promotion at work. You might picture your boss shaking your hand and saying “congratulations, congratulations.” You have to feel the emotions that would naturally be yours in that state. “Feeling is the secret,” Neville wrote.
It is the mental state, and not physical effort, that creates. Some people ask whether this is a formula for passivity. I am friendly with a successful manufacturing executive in the Midwest. He is an avid student of Neville’s ideas. He asked me a question one day: He feels confident in picturing an outcome. But his board of directors, he explained, demands details — they want to know: how will it get done? In following Neville’s teachings, he feels that he’s already doing all that is needed. And for years it has worked. But he must answer to people who aren’t going to accept a metaphysical formula as a business plan. What should he do?
My response to him was to plan and act as the board requires — and continue to mentally create as before, remaining true to his conviction that that’s where the real power resides. We live in a world of Caesar and must abide by material demands. My friend will lose the confidence of his board if he fails to act. We are called upon to perform in both worlds: the seen and the unseen. If Neville wanted to take a train somewhere, he didn’t just sit in his room — he went out and purchased a ticket. We are surrounded by people living in outer life. Play the role that outer life requires. “Render unto Caesar.” But remember the underground spring from which all creation arises.
Perform these three steps persistently, and you will come away with a greater sense of yourself and your possibilities.
(This article is adapted from the author’s book The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality.)