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Mitch in New York City, 2020. Photo by Gabriel Dean Roberts.

You Are As Your Mind Is

The metaphysics of Joseph Murphy could change everything for you

Many of us grew up with the notion — almost wholly untested — that our moods are, more or the less, the result of our circumstances. That our moods are symptoms.

Metaphysical writer and minister Joseph Murphy (1898–1981) upended that point of view. Murphy perceived and documented a different and more powerful way of living — one in which mood, thought, and mental image are causes rather than symptoms. Murphy considered this true in the most literal and vital sense. More so, the author reasoned that you, as an individual, are an expression and channel of the Godlike creative powers referenced in Scripture, and that you are, at this very moment, constructing your world through your emotionalized thoughts and mental images.

Beginning with his first book This Is It in 1945, the Irish minister combined principles of psychology, self-suggestion, and a cosmological theology, which he had been developing and testing for many years. It is notable that Murphy did not produce his first book until age 47 — he first sought to validate his ideas in the laboratory of experience. Once Murphy found his footing as a writer and speaker, his output was prodigious.

The size of Murphy’s readership, which today is growing, is equal to the volume of his output. Part of the reason for Murphy’s posterity is that he dramatically and, for many people, convincingly married twentieth-century psychology with the New Metaphysics, specifically New Thought, Science of Mind, Unity, Christian Science, and Divine Science. In so doing, he gave readers a dramatic new sense of their self-potential and their role in creation.

Murphy accepted the traditional premise that we all possess two minds: the outer, rational mind, called the conscious; and the inner, emotional mind, called the subconscious, or what I sometimes call the psyche. The subconscious is generally agreed to be the driving engine of your life — it is the hidden influence that shapes and reinforces your attitudes, affinities, perceptions, self-image, relationships, and experiences. But Murphy went further. He reasoned that the subconscious mind is programed by the conscious mind: what we view and accept as valid or perceptively justified — whether or not this is sound or desirable — is acted upon and out-pictured by the subconscious in a complex of ways.

Hence, Murphy reasoned that the mission of the conscious mind must be to protect the subconscious from receiving impressions that misdirect its life-shaping energies. We must consciously filter out or temper suggestions that we do not want the psyche to uncritically accept and act upon. The stakes of this transaction are higher than is commonly understood. The subconscious, Murphy reasoned, mediates between individual experience and the existence of an Infinite Mind, which courses through each of us like the inlets of a vast ocean. Seen another way, the subconscious or psyche is the medium through which Infinite Mind, or what Scripture calls God, creates and actualizes.

This view is largely at home in New Thought. It differs somewhat from Christian Science insofar as Christian Science theology sees the human mind itself not as a mediator between the individual and higher but as an illusion — sometimes called “mortal” or “material” mind, which must be allowed to dissolve like a fog of delusion so that the one Higher Mind can shine through. In effect, however, Murphy’s philosophy agrees with Christian Science and the related metaphysical schools: materialism is ultimately a delusion and the one true reality is the fullness and unsurpassed peace of the Higher Mind. In this sense, Murphy endeavored to harmonize the New Metaphysics, biblical revelation, religious symbolism, and modern psychology.

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Murphy was a lifelong seeker and traveller, in both inner and outer realms. As such, he was well suited to the task he took on.

Born in 1898 on the southern coast of Ireland, he grew up in a large, devout Catholic family. Murphy’s parents urged him to join the priesthood. But the young seminarian found religious doctrine and catechism too limiting. Eager to peer more deeply into the internal mechanics of life, the he left seminary to dedicate his energies to chemistry, which he studied both before and after his religious training.

In the early 1920s, married yet still searching for his place in the world of career and commerce, Murphy relocated to America to seek employment as a chemist and druggist. After running a pharmacy counter at New York’s Algonquin Hotel, Murphy renewed his study of mystical and metaphysical ideas. He read the works of Taoism, Confucianism, Transcendentalism, Buddhism, Scripture — and New Thought. The seeker grew fully enamored of the New Metaphysics sweeping the Western world. The causative power of thought, Murphy came to believe, revealed the authentic meaning of the world’s religions, the deeper meaning of psychology, and the eternal laws of life.

In arriving at his matured spiritual outlook, Murphy told an interviewer that he studied in the 1930s with the same teacher who tutored his contemporary New Yorker and friend, mystic Neville Goddard (1905–1972). Murphy said they shared the same teacher: a turbaned man of black-Jewish descent named Abdullah. Shortly before his death in 1981, Murphy, in a little-known series of interviews published in French by a press in Quebec, described his encounter with the mysterious Abdullah. Interviewer Bernard Cantin recounted the tale in his 1987 dialogues with the writer:

It was in New York that Joseph Murphy also met the professor Abdullah, a Jewish man of black ancestry, a native of Israel, who knew, in every detail, all the symbolism of each of the verses of the Old and the New Testaments. This meeting was one of the most significant in Dr. Murphy’s spiritual evolution. In fact, Abdullah, who had never seen nor known the Murphy family, said flatly that Murphy came from a family of six children, and not five, as Murphy himself had believed. Later on, Murphy, intrigued, questioned his mother and learned that, indeed, he had had another brother who had died a few hours after his birth, and was never spoken of again.

After studying with Abdullah, Murphy in the late-1930s began his climb as a minister and writer, soon lecturing on the radio and speaking live on both coasts. He wrote prolifically on the auto-suggestive and causative faculties of thought, and reached a worldwide audience in 1963 in The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, which went on to sell millions of copies and has remained one of the most enduring books on positive-mind philosophy.

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Not every idea Murphy voiced is one that you will necessarily agree with. I do not myself. But I find it useful to evaluate, learn from, and posthumously argue with Murphy as a figure possessed of a range of outlooks, some of which he refined as time passed.

The truly radical and seismic notion at the center of Murphy’s work is: You are as you mind is. He dedicated a lifetime to studying, proving, harnessing, and supplying seekers with that idea. His work is a testament to the enduring power and effectiveness of his search.

(This article is adapted from the author’s introduction to The Wisdom of Joseph Murphy.)

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