In this article, I want to offer some commentary on Ernest Holmes talk given at Asilomar in August 1954 entitled “Discovering God”. The transcript of this talk can be found in the recently published book Ernest Holmes at Asilomar for which I played an integral role in its creation. For information on that “back story”, check out this article.
Holmes begins this talk with this somewhat jarring passage:
“Plotinus said that nature is the great no thing but it isn’t exactly nothing because it has an office to perform: to receive the images of the contemplation of the Spirit. There is no more doubt that there is such a neutral field of creative action in the universe in the realm of mind, than there are different kinds of trees growing out of the same soil. There isn’t the slightest doubt that mental action and reaction takes place and that it is analyzable but the theoretical supposition that it takes place in an individual or separate mind is entirely fallacious. It is not an entity but an apparently entitized field of reaction in that it has no volition of its own. As Plotinus said, this mind principle is a blind force, not knowing, only doing.”
I sort of wonder if Holmes had some introductory comments before this passage which were not captured in the transcript. This is somewhat of a “deep” way to begin the talk. That said, what is he talking about here? And what does this have to do with “discovering God”? Let’s break this down.
First, Holmes begins by paraphrasing Plotinus, the founder of “neoplatonism”. For context, let’s quote Wikipedia: “Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent “One”, containing no division, multiplicity, or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being. His “One” “cannot be any existing thing”, nor is it merely the sum of all things […] but “is prior to all existents”.
Holmes and Science of Mind teaches the same concept of a Oneness that both created and expresses Itself through that creation. Everything is connected in a unity but its expression may appear as multiplicity.
When Holmes uses the phrase “nature as the great no thing”, he is talking specifically about a term “used by Neo-Platonists to express the idea that the visible universe is not a thing in itself; it means that nature is no-thing in itself —it is an effect of that which projects it.” (from Holmes’ Dictionary of New Thought Terms)
If the universe is “not a thing in itself”, then does that mean it’s not real or it is some kind of illusion? Not necessarily. Although there are some philosophical “idealists” who may believe that the physical universe is an illusion, Holmes (and most New Thought) does not adhere to that belief.
Instead, Holmes makes a distinction between among our various “levels” or “types” of experience. Although everything is ultimately God/Spirit/The Thing Itself in a unity of Oneness, this Life expresses Itself in different ways through the spiritual, mental and physical states. What is “really real” is the level of Spirit. Our ultimate Truth is in the realm of God. But this fact doesn’t negate the fact that we are also experiencing material life. As Teilhard de Chardin so famously put it, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
It may sound like double speak to say that our experience of the physical is not “nothing” but it is “no thing”, but this actually conveys the deeper meaning that the real “Thing” is God or Spirit that is expressing Itself through physical forms; and these physical forms are not “nothing”. I like how Holmes put it once when he was asked if the material world was real, he replied that it was “real as form”. It’s not “nothing” but it’s not the “real Thing Itself” (therefore, being “no thing”).
But let’s move on a bit in the quote above from Holmes. He next says that this great no thing of nature “has an office to perform: to receive the images of the contemplation of the Spirit.” He adds that there is a “neutral field of creative action” in the realm of mind, and that mental action leads to a “reaction”, that this is a “blind force” that simply reacts (“not knowing, only doing”).
This connects to the second part of the definition from Holmes on the phrase “not a thing in itself” cited above where he points out that nature “is an effect of that which projects it”. In other words, what we experience as this manifest physical universe of diversity and multiplicity (or “nature”) is an effect created by thinking in the field of mind. Thoughts from the mental realm flow through a blind force that simply reacts to them to create the effects of the physical world.
Now I quickly admit that everything certainly seems real as we knock around in this material world. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, it certain is not “nothing” in the manifest realm of the physical world, I certainly in my human beingness experience the “effects”. But ultimately in the higher worlds of Mind and Spirit, it is “no thing”.
Now at this point, you might go back and review the Holmes quote above and see if it’s making any more sense to you. I realize we haven’t talked about what this has to do with “discovering God” but we are headed towards it. But before we get there, I feel the need to offer you a mental picture which may be helpful before we proceed.
Here is what I would suggest you read and then stop and go back and visualize:
Picture a sliding scale vibratory range of experience. You have the free will choice to move up and down this continuum as you desire. There are no distinct barriers where things change drastically, rather it’s like tuning an old dial radio where you simply move from one frequency to the next and the change as you do so is “oh so slight”.
Now at one end of the scale (which we are arbitrary going to call “lower”) is the material world where everything is experienced as separate and apart from everything else in a state of various “forms”. At the lowest level, things are vibrating so slowly that they appear to not be moving. These densest forms (such as rocks and minerals) certainly contain “consciousness” or “mind” (or Spirit), but they have the least amount of self awareness possible. As we move up in vibration, we come to forms such as simple plants and then more complex plants, then animals in growing levels of complexity. Each movement up the scale leads us to forms that have deeper consciousness or mind, more “awareness” and faster vibratory rates.
At some point on this physical evolutionary scale we come to certain unique physical forms such as humans who have crossed a threshold into a degree of self awareness. They “know that they know”. They can “think about thinking”. Their awareness and free will choice allows them to switch back and forth between a focus upon this “lower” physical state from which they evolved and a “higher” mental and spiritual state towards which they appear to be moving.
In this “lower” state, they (like everything that exists “below” them) see everything in relation to other “things”. This is the realm of the “relative” where their experience focuses upon the perceived differences, where every “thing” appears to be separate and apart from every other “thing”. Fear, survival and competition drive much of the motivations when they focus on this level of existence.
However, humans can shift their attention and focus upwards to higher possibilities, to higher states of being, to experience a type of “transcendence” beyond the physical into the realm of the “non-physical”. As they shift their attention (and their frequency) “upward”, they encounter the realm of their conscious awareness, the mental realm, the world of “thinking” and “thinking about thinking”. As they move “higher” they sense touching certain aspects of Life that transcends their physical forms, this provides them with unique experiences where they get intuitive messages, they feel at a deeper level the power of love, they experience a greater sense of unity of all of life. Although they may rarely if ever move in their awareness further up the continuum, if they do they may come close to the other end of the scale. Here they approach the Spiritual world of Oneness and total enlightenment, pure awareness of the total unity of all. This is the realm of the Absolute. Here things are vibrating so fast that they appear to be standing still.
Now, take a moment and visualize and feel into this vibratory sliding scale continuum from physical matter up to the mental realm on up to Spirit. Move from the world of the relative to the world of the Absolute in your mind. Anchor that picture into your awareness.
[End of visualization description.]
Now let’s move on to another quote from Holmes a bit later in the talk:
“We have what is called a spirit, soul and body but we are not thinking of them like a three layer cake. […]The Greeks had an absolute, a spirit, a soul principle, then a mind principle and a body. Part of our philosophy is taken from the intellectual concept of the Greeks, except I put the absolute and the spirit together, called the body completely the effect and the soul or the mind I divided into its two aspects of action and reaction (if you want to call it conscious and subconscious, it doesn’t matter or call it the seed and the soil). So, I grafted these two together and these two and left this one out here to do the best it could do for itself because it is more than nothing and less than something. It is entirely an effect. Of course, out of the body, the body in a split second starts to disintegrate.”
Now if you locked in the visual I described above about the sliding scale from God or Spirit (the Absolute) down to the material world of form (the relative), this Holmes quote might begin to make some sense.
Here Holmes is talking about how Science of Mind uses a mental map construct of “spirit, soul and body” to outline the aspects of how Spirit or The Thing Itself” expresses and experiences Itself. They are not divisions within the Unity of Oneness, we don’t see them as separate “like a three layer cake”. Rather they are a way of talking about (or “mapping”) the universe to make it more understandable for us.
Holmes used “spirit, soul and body” for his map, but the Greeks used “an absolute, a spirit, a soul principle, then a mind principle and a body” in theirs. The visual exercise above gave you a “sliding scale” map that you hopefully can easily plug either Holmes’ map or the Greek’s map onto and it make sense. No matter how you slice it and dice it….there is the world of effects/form/body/material world on one end of your map and the world of God/Spirit/Absolute on the other. You lucky spiritual being having this human experience get to move in your experience from one end to the other.
So now, what does all of this have to do with “discovering God”? I hope that if you have followed me on this journey here, it has become somewhat obvious. Discovering God means shifting your attention and awareness “upward” from the world of “effects”, from the world of nature and “no thing” to that “higher” state where you can first recognize your ability to make choices in the mental realm and then ultimately to “taste” the sweetness of unity and Oneness and God. If you can consciously do that, then you will begin to discover God.
But wait, there’s more! And we will continue on looking at this talk from Holmes in Part Two.