As a Man Thinketh is one of the classic books of inspirational literature. Written by James Allen in 1903, the book is still popular, 115 years later. The title is based on a Bible verse from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This little book of 45 pages is packed with inspiring ideas and can be read again and again.
The idea that we are what we think seems evident today, but it was new at the time, and the book became a prominent influence in the field of self-development. This idea is one of the principles of New Thought spiritual movements like Centers for Spiritual Living (Religious Science) and Unity. One of the tenets of Religious Science is “change your thinking, change your life,” which is an affirmation of the power of thought on our lives. The principle of the Law of Attraction is also related, as it assumes that the quality and kinds of thoughts tend to attract experiences and things that are similar.
James Allen was born in 1864 in Leicester, England. His father William worked as a factory knitter and went seeking better opportunities in America, where he was mysteriously killed. Consequently, at 15 years old Allen was forced to leave school to support the family. He worked for a while as a knitter but then found work as a secretary, and later as a journalist. All the time he kept voraciously reading spiritual books. He had prayed whether to give up material work to focus entirely on his spiritual writing and had a vision which seemed to affirm that this was his path. At age 38, James became a full-time writer and philosopher, pouring out his thoughts in a steady stream of books, the most renowned being As a Man Thinketh.
This book became read around the world and brought Allen posthumous fame as one of the pioneering figures of modern inspirational thought. Continuing to publish the spiritual magazine The Light of Reason, Allen wrote for nine more years, producing 19 works until his death in 1912. His wife Lily continued publishing the magazine under the name The Epoch.
The book begins: “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…” We might consider the idea that our thoughts create our lives as a given, like the importance of sleep. But at the time, it was a somewhat revolutionary idea.
A popular analogy compares thoughts to seeds, and he uses it here. “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run; it must and will bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then useless weed seeds will fall therein and will continue to produce their kind.” In this way, he says, one becomes the master garden of his soul.
Allen makes the connection with the Law of Attraction, as he says, “The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors, that which it loves and that which it fears. He also connects thoughts to the law of cause and effect, in that “man is continually revolting against an effect without, while all the time he is nourishing and preserving its cause in his heart.” The cause is the kind of thoughts one entertains, so the effect, or what shows up, is a natural outcome.
Trying to change the effect is like using a photocopier, which can only make the image on the copy plate. We might look at the image produced and ask, why do I keep getting the same old thing? Because the same image is put on the plate. The resulting image is the effect, and we must change the cause, the original image or thought. This is really the basics of the law of attraction, that what is in our mind, what we tend to think about, draws to it things of like nature.
He stresses the importance of linking thought with a purpose and making that purpose the centralizing point of thoughts. This action not only moves one to accomplish goals but also develops strength of character. “As the physically weak man can make himself strong by patient training, so the man of weak thoughts can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking.”
Allen urges the need for a great vision. “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the Ideal that you enthrone in your heart – this you will build your life by, and this you will become.”
As a Man Thinketh is now in public domain and available free online, even from Amazon as an e-book.
Now the key is how to remember to keep the quality and kinds of our thoughts focused on the kind of person we want to be and what we want to experience. Reading inspirational literature, such as mentioned in this blog, is vital. Creating some affirmations to focus on throughout the day can be a significant benefit. It could be the same every day or a new one daily. For example, “I have faith in the goodness of life.” “My life is blessed with love, health, and happiness.” “My creativity does good work in the world and fulfills and rewards me abundantly.”
Emile Coué was a French pharmacist who developed the idea of autosuggestion when he found his patients benefitted by positive statements he put in with the prescription. His most famous autosuggestion: “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”
Mindfulness is a practice to keep centered and aware of those thoughts flitting across the mind, like fireflies on a summer day. Many books abound on this subject, most notably by Thich Nhat Hanh and Eckhart Tolle, among many others.
The point is to move from theory to practice. I came across a book called 10 Minute Mindfulness: 71 simple habits for living in the present moment by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport. The premise is that we can transform our daily habits habit into moments of mindfulness.
The authors recommend starting with only a few changes and practicing them for weeks or months; for example, making a cup of tea. Stop to really experience each part of the action, bringing all your senses to it. Knowing that forgetting to be mindful is so easy, they suggest making very tiny goals to keep on track, such as focusing on the first few moments of the changed behavior.
Connecting to some trigger is helpful for mindfulness. For mindful driving, set the trigger when you get in the car. Sit for a moment, then be aware of all the actions, the motions, noticing around you, the road, the trees, people.
I chose eating as a habit to change, as I tend to rush through eating while I read or watch TV. Eating is a good thing to start with, as we all do it. They suggest being aware while you prepare the food – even if it’s microwaving or just ordering. Then before you eat – notice the food – aware of the colors, the smells.
Before eating, saying grace can be a trigger to mindful practice, just a simple thank you, or “I give thanks for this food and all the ways and means it has come to me.” Think of all the people involved in growing, reaping, packaging, delivering. Give thanks for all this work, so you could sit like a king or queen with this gift of food.
As you eat – notice the flavors, textures, chewing – to bring yourself to an awareness of this present moment. This mindful practice has been rather transformative for me. I feel so much more connected, more in tune with my life, more relaxed, and have better digestion!
You might have a time trigger, for example, 10 am and 3 pm. At those times, you stop and check in with your body and tune into your thoughts. Notice your body language. Slow down. Stretch. And especially, breathe. Pay attention to your breath and breathe deeply. There are so many practices you could do.
One final note: The Bible quote is “As a man thinketh in his heart.” That is also a key to being mindful. Move from intellectual thoughts, or brain activity, and move to a more full-bodied experience, to feeling, to drop down to the center of love and compassion. You can never go wrong with more love. As you fill your mind and heart with thoughts of love, love comes to envelop you in a warm embrace.
I have a passion for stories and inspirational literature.