The Miracle Club with Mitch Horowitz starts tonight at 8 p.m. EST / 5 p.m. PST. Learn more and register.
I first discovered Mitch Horowitz through a reading of Occult America. Lately, I’m learning a lot through his book on New Thought: One Simple Idea and more recently, Mind As Builder. Mitch is currently working on a new book entitled The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality, and Nura Learning is fortunate to have an early taste with the upcoming, same-titled online seminar this Thursday, April 19th: “The Miracle Club.” The idea is simple, but radical: what if our thoughts are causative? The implications of positive mind metaphysics aren’t new to the extended “consciousness culture” and can often be identified in New Age bookstores, but the concept has a rich, often untold history. When we take it seriously, we challenge ourselves to alter and re-shape our habits, our intentions, our interior selves. In short, the notion that our inner thoughts can “concretize” into outer realities is a tremendously empowering and practical life philosophy. So: what if we really believed it? This idea dates back: far, far back to antiquity in the ancient world—perhaps even further, but its recent proponents—in the last century or so—have given it a uniquely modern twist, appealing to those who would otherwise dismiss mystical ideas (Speaking for myself? I am happy to embrace both the mystical and the modern). I spoke with Mitch about the fascinating origins of this idea and how anyone can adopt it as a radical, practical philosophy of life.
J: Let’s start with the essential question. It may also be the hardest question: can our thoughts change reality?
MH: In my experience, yes, without question. Placebo studies alone tell us that. The question is the extent and cause of that change—is it a mere cognitive act of instilling “confidence,” or something deeper? I contend that there is an extra-physical dimension to life, and that the mind can no longer be considered solely a local byproduct of brain matter. I do believe that thoughts are causative—but I think that that claim deepens rather than settles our questions. I do not think we live under one mental “super law” or Law of Attraction. Although consciousness may underscore the ultimate realty of existence, we live under many laws and forces. My challenge is how to use and experiment with the creative powers of the mind, both to improve our experience and forge deeper questions.
Where did this idea come from? It would seem that human beings used to be more comfortable with the assumption that mind and matter were intertwined in a deeper and more mysterious reality.
Since antiquity, various seekers have detected a thin tissue of separation between the mental and the experiential; or, to put it differently, have found that thought can be a causative act. Probably the most compelling expression of that outlook appears in the Hermetica, a body of literature written by Greek-Egyptian scribes in Alexandria in the decades immediately following Christ. The value of the Hermetica is that it rendered elements of ancient Egyptian religion into Greek literary form, hence preserving a sample of primeval religious thought. The Hermetic writers believed that the individual and the Creator are united through the medium of thought. This is basically the core principle of modern mind metaphysics: that your mind is channel of some kind of higher or extra-physical forces. There is no direct family tree between the ancient Hermeticists and the seekers who began testing mind metaphysics in the mid-to-late 19th century, but they had certain parallel insights. Moreover, during the past 150 years or so of clinical experiments in cognition, placebo studies, quantum theory, neuroplasticity, psychical research, and other fields, our questions of the mind’s power have continually expanded, and never receded. The more we look, the more challenged we are by an expanded conception of the mind.
The Miracle Club was the name of a salon of occult seekers who came together in New York City in the mid-1870s to explore esoteric questions. The group itself was short-lived, but formed the basis for the larger and more influential Theosophical Society, whose founding in 1875 revived interest in occult ideas throughout America, Europe, India, and other parts of the world. Everything that we now call New Age, and the entire alternative spiritual scene across the globe, can be loosely traced to the influence of the Theosophical Society. I wanted to honor, and reignite, the ethic of radical inquiry possessed by the early founders of the Miracle Club.
Is this the same teaching we see in a lot of metaphysical bookstores? Does it depart at all from mysticism?
My inquiry into mind metaphysics is a lot like what you find in metaphysical bookstores with the key exception that I try to provide a highly critical, as well as practical, framing of what is popularly called the Law of Attraction or the Power of Positive Thinking. My approach is that these popular movements offer real truths; but at the same time they have failed to grow and mature. In some regards, the movement stopped growing and searching following the death of philosopher William James in 1910. James was a dedicated experimenter in mind metaphysics, a field for which he had deep and critical sympathy. After his passing, mind metaphysics or New Thought settled too comfortably into catechism, and a steady output of compelling but intellectually limited books. I am trying, in my own way, to restart James’s study, in a manner that simultaneously takes account of scientific advances, promotes intelligent exchange, and encourages adventurous and radical personal inquiry. I firmly believe that thought has the power to change a life, not just in terms of one’s morale but in concrete, measurable events. I want seekers to take that seriously.
Can we have a taste of the kind of personal exercises we could adopt in everyday life? What’s one simple thing we can take away with us?
Sure—in the moments before you fall asleep at night try visualizing an image of a desired outcome of something important in your life, or repeating an affirmation for a trait you want to cultivate, like confidence while delivering a talk. Be gentle and casual about it, and then allow yourself to fall asleep as usual. Sleep researchers call this pre-sleep period the hypnagogic state. It is a stage when your mind is especially supple and flexible. It is “prime time” for using affirmations or visualizations. Serious psychical researchers have also found that it is a time of heightened episodes of telepathy or some kind of anomalous transfer for information. Try this as a small personal experiment. I’ll expand upon it during Thursday’s presentation.
Do you think ideas like positive thinking, occultism, and other stranger and more ‘occult’ forms of thought are getting adopted by the mainstream? They seem to be more prevalent than ever before, slipping in as pop culture metaphysics. I wonder if there is a change in the public reception of these ideas, and if you think that change is for the better?
Many of these ideas are widely adopted but not under the banner of occultism or anything esoteric. Modern people like to adopt ideas and methods, and discard outer wrapping. Hence, we have this rather strange situation where nearly everyone in society is using occult methods, of one sort or another, while calling themselves rationalists. The two poles can actually be united.