Are You Satisfied with Your Life?
Thomas O. Poyser, C.S.B., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
I was having a snack one day in a small cafe when a woman came in. She ordered a hot drink. She looked around and pronounced in loud tones, "Life is what you make it. Make it miserable, and it is miserable." Then, surprisingly, she went her way.
Well, life is largely what you make it, isn't it? "But hold on!" most people say. "I didn't make the unpleasant conditions into which I was born. I didn't make the things that hinder my progress, I didn't make the unhappiness I experience." Oh, how the "I's" have it! "I'm sick; I'm limited; I'm unhappy. But I'm not responsible for what life did to me."
Yet we don't have to look far into history or the world about us to find individuals who achieved great things despite circumstances often considered handicaps. Marian Anderson, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln are just a few. You know of others yourself. Here are people who proved the truthfulness of the French statesman Tardieu's observation: "Difficulties lie in our habits of thought, rather than in the nature of things." The people I've mentioned refused to believe that satisfaction and fulfillment could be denied by unfortunate circumstances. But all too frequently people forget how much control we can all exercise over circumstances - and this may well be the reason for the so often unfulfilled hopes of humanity.
I once saw a sign that read; "Don't drive with your mind in neutral." Being neutral to the possibilities at hand to make life really worth living regardless of circumstances can often result in a sense of life that may be disappointing. You've probably heard the expressions, "Well that's life!" or "What a life!"
These expressions all suggest that perhaps life can be less than satisfying. How about it, then, are you satisfied with your life?
Well, in order to have a really satisfying experience, it's necessary to gain a correct concept of life - what life really is. And so I propose that we explore the real nature of life. For a correct understanding of life can enable us to live more healthy lives with a greater freedom. This enables us to develop and use our capacities more fully.
And such an understanding of life and the consequent healthy use of our capacities can enable us to enjoy a happy, satisfying experience in the highest sense of happiness and satisfaction.
An Important Question
A recently published book entitled "The Biological Time Bomb," by Gordon Rattray Taylor, poses some interesting and challenging questions concerning human life now and in the future.
Mr. Taylor observes that biologists are fast developing, the ability to manipulate human genetics to change human life as we know it today. These changes would alter men's bodies. He then predicts that someday these bodies may be united with machines. As a further step he suggests that certain human organs may be united with animals or that animals may be developed with sufficient intelligence to replace people at certain tasks. The possibility is also entertained of creating life in test tubes, so to speak, and even of raising test tube babies with characteristics predetermined by biologists. So it seems that biology is in the position of being able in the not too distant future to alter human life as it has been known basically for thousands of years.
Or consider another area of
physiological research today, the brain. At a recent seminar of the
In fact, new criteria are being developed almost daily by which the ultimate question of what constitutes life and death is to be legally and medically determined by the condition and functioning of the brain. Life then is now being largely defined in terms of the state of the brain, or material consciousness, rather than by other previously regarded bodily processes.
All these developments are supposed to promise mankind increased longevity, more health, strength, and brain power. But at the same time, a tremendously important question arises that requires thoughtful consideration. Just what is our concept of life? For if life is basically nothing more than a big biological machine that can be programmed this way or that, humanity is likely to become a mere automate. But if life is something more than just a biological machine - and I hope to show that indeed it is - then it is essential to gain a correct concept of the nature of what life really is.
How Christ Jesus Defined Life
Some two thousand years ago, Christ Jesus defined life. You may recall an instance in which he was sought out by an individual apparently concerned with the nature of life, And this one asked: "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Perhaps he wished to be able to perpetuate the material existence he was accustomed to or to see improvement in it. Or he may have wished to embarrass Jesus.
In either event, Jesus in turn asked his questioner, a lawyer: "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" Then the record continues: "And he answering said, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself". To which Jesus replied: "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live" (Luke -28). In other words, Jesus equated life, eternal life, with love for God and one's neighbor.
This view of life is quite unlike what biology concerns itself with - material life, animal life, vegetable life. Biological theories are a study more or less of what has occurred on this and other planets and of what may in the future occur. But this is a sense of life that's really just a symbol of real life, and this symbol is likely to change and be changed according to variations in human concepts as to values, purposes, and the nature of life.
Christ Jesus was concerned with quite a different sense of life. Of this life he once said: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). This concept of life is based upon knowledge of God and the ideal man, as exemplified by Christ Jesus.
A dictionary definition of "eternal" reads in part: ". . . opposite of temporal. Continued unintermittedly; perpetual. Valid or existing at all times; immutable. Timeless." Eternality, then, has nothing to do with time or even longevity - or with any of biology's new potential for altering human life.
Jesus placed eternality in the present - not that it would come only at some future time or distant place. He said, "This life eternal." In other words, eternality is a quality of life to be experienced right here and now. It embraces health, longevity, right living, but is vastly more than any human concept of these things because it is in and of God. Jesus declared God to be all good and infinite Spirit. The concept of life with which he was concerned and which he preached and practiced was wholly spiritual - and by spiritual I mean completely independent of matter and time and their limitations. Recognition and acceptance of the nature of life as spiritual is a vital key to stabilizing human existence, its individuality and uniqueness.
Impact of Understanding Life As Eternal
I'd like to illustrate more specifically what I mean. A woman in her forty-fifth year lay on what was assumed by those about her to be her death-bed. Her physician had kindly done all he could, and her friends had gathered to await her passing. She requested her Bible and began to read in it. From childhood she had loved God and the Scriptures. Now as she read, she experienced an influx of spiritual light and understanding. Suddenly she realized that the same spiritual power employed by Jesus is always available to those who love and unreservedly turn to God. She was able to rise from her bed and join her friends. And for forty-four additional years this woman, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, lived an active and constructive life.
From girlhood, Mrs. Eddy's life was difficult. But she had early learned to turn to the Bible and to prayer as a solution to difficulties. Having glimpsed something of life as wholly spiritual, this glimpse, or discovery, healed her of serious injuries. Then, as the light of this discovery grew brighter, like the open end of a tunnel which you walk toward, there developed in her thought the scientific understanding of life as spiritual, wholly sustained and governed by spiritual law.
In the years following her healing
in 1866 she presented the Science of Christ to the world. She wrote and
published her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures."
She established the Church of Christ, Scientist, which is comprised of The
Mother Church in
The Controlling Factor in Health
Among the first results of learning that life is spiritual is better health. By means of understanding this Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and dying. And he did these things without drugs, hypnotism, psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, or surgery - including today's increasingly popular transplant surgery. Jesus' methods were wholly spiritual, relying solely on God.
And through her prayerful study of the life and works of Christ Jesus, Mrs. Eddy found that his example illustrated a divine Principle and wasn't just a personal ability possessed only by him. She observed that he instructed and commissioned his disciples to heal the sick as well as the sinning and that this practice was followed by the early Christians, only to be lost after about three centuries. She quite naturally deduced that an understanding of God and the Christ-power which animated Jesus' life and that of his early followers could accomplish similar healings in any age.
Mrs. Eddy identified the Principle by which Jesus healed to be God, the origin and source of all good. She reasoned that this divine Principle is ever-present and available and that it acts on human consciousness through the Christ. She saw that the Christ is the true idea of God as infinite Spirit and that it identifies man as God's wholly spiritual expression. She herself performed innumerable healings through this revelation of the Science of Christ. Christian Science adheres to this divine method as the most satisfying
means of both preventing and curing disease.
And this brings me to a point I wish to make clear to anyone who may not be well acquainted with this Christ-Science. The public perhaps quite generally believes that Christian Science and Christian Scientists are opposed to doctors and approved medical practice. This isn't really so - at least so far as others are concerned. Of course, Christian Scientists wish to follow the teachings they know and trust. And we're willing for others to do the same. We greatly appreciate the sincere efforts of the medical profession and support reliance upon it by those who depend upon it. But we feel even more strongly that the way of Christ Jesus, the way of life and health on a wholly spiritual basis, is the better and more effective way.
This way is quite different from that of biology. The concern of biology is with animal life, vegetable life, physical life. Its effort is to strengthen and prolong these, which are but symbols of real life. Certainly attainments in this direction suggest human progress. Christian Science doesn't dispute this. But its concern is with spiritual life and it demonstrates that this is the controlling factor in health and well-being.
Health Is Not Dependent on Matter
For a long time outside of medical
circles human life has been generally accepted in terms of states or stages of
consciousness. For example, have you ever enjoyed anything to your hearts
content? And what about that fellow who lost his heart in
But this concept of life as dependent upon some particular physical organ such as the brain or the state or condition of material consciousness isn't entirely satisfactory. Why? Because anything predicated on material observation, experience, and conclusions must by its very nature be an ever shifting concept. It doesn't last.
Christian Science has long related existence with consciousness. But it gives to this word "consciousness" a vastly different significance than is generally applied to it. Christian Science submits that the brain is not in reality the seat of true consciousness and that true consciousness isn't a material state at all.
Instead we affirm that all real consciousness is in and of God, divine Mind or Spirit, and thus wholly good, wholly intelligent, and wholly spiritual. Being in and of God, this spiritual consciousness is wholly devoid of any material element, of any element that can decay, become sick, be destroyed or die. Therefore man in his true nature possesses consciousness by virtue of his spiritual relation to God - by virtue of being the individual idea of divine Mind, the individual expression of infinite Spirit, the individual image and likeness of the divine Principle of all good, the defined activity of eternal Life. In a book published as early as 1887, Mrs. Eddy writes: "God is All-in-all. Hence He is in Himself only, in His own nature and character, and is perfect being, or consciousness. He is all the Life and Mind there is or can be. Within Himself is every embodiment of Life and Mind" (Unity of Good, p. 3). And therefore within God, the origin of all real consciousness, is the source of all health.
The Way of Eternal Life
But of what value is this to you and me? Well, I'm sure that regardless of your religious or scientific background, you agree that life exists and that you're alive and conscious! Like the Bible, Christian Science credits God as the source and origin of all true life and existence, and thus defines God as divine Life. The life of man, then, is the individual expression of this divine Life, or God.
So man's life must be spiritual, good, eternal - not dependent upon matter but rather upon self-sustaining spiritual consciousness, God. This is the life I referred to earlier as the real life of which material existence is actually but a symbol. And it must be healthy, partaking of the nature of unfailing, indestructible Spirit, God. This, then, to employ a popular expression, "is the life!" This is real, spiritual life.
And you and I can experience this life right now to the degree we correctly understand and demonstrate the nature and relationship of God and man. The Bible defines or implies God's nature to be that of infinite Spirit, absolute intelligence or Mind, and divine Love. Man, therefore, as the creation or off-spring of God, fully expresses Spirit, Mind, Love. He is idea, individual spiritual consciousness of all good, of whatever partakes of the nature of God. Hence man in God's likeness experiences unfailing health at all times and the indestructible eternal Life which is God.
As you and I individually express the spiritual qualities of Life, Spirit, Mind, Love here and now, to that extent we're experiencing or living eternal life right now. And humanly we experience better health, more longevity, and a spiritually oriented sense of existence that really satisfies!
Spiritual Living Brings Moral Freedom
The individual who appreciates man's spiritual nature finds life really worth living. This sense of life frees him to realize his individual abilities and capacities. The understanding that life is spiritual reveals a meaningful sense of liberty.
The quest for liberty has sparked endeavor and moved men forward from earliest times. First they gained freedom from the elements. Then from wild beasts. In varying degree throughout time they have sought and in some measure gained freedom from limitation and oppression.
But a further step is necessary! Science and Health puts it like this: "Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: 'Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!' Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the 'glorious liberty of the children of God,' and be free! This is your divine right" (p. 227). The understanding of life as spiritual awakens a spiritual sense of liberty and a freedom of conscience that enables us to live freely and to develop and use our capacities for good for ourselves and for others.
Christian Science encourages freedom of conscience and the liberating ability to do the right thing at the right time, even without being told. It sharpens one's conscience through cultivation of man's spiritual nature rather than living on the basis of mere animal instincts. There's need today for such ability to do the right thing, for men's consciences are being tested as never before.
Freedom of conscience is generally interpreted to mean the individual should be free according to his own conscience to determine the right or wrong of things and to act as his conscience directs him to. This is fine so long as one's conscience hasn't become dulled through misuse or neglect. Christian Science endorses free moral agency - but on the basis of the right to do right and not wrong. The understanding of life as spiritual embraces all the qualities that express the nature of God as Spirit, Mind, Love. As these qualities are admitted into individual consciousness, that person's moral mercury rises and he manifests a greater degree of humanity, affection, honesty, compassion, faith, meekness, temperance, and other moral qualities.
Freedom of conscience, then, rightly viewed, includes also responsibility of conduct, a proper sense of values or standards. If people think life is merely material, animal, they feel free to resort to levels of conduct that correspond to such views; but when people recognize life as spiritual, they pattern their lives after higher things. As a noted scholar wrote in a recent magazine article: "Men tend to be what they think they are . . . If they accept a view of themselves as self-indulgent they will tend to be self-indulgent; if they accept a view of themselves as morally responsible beings they will tend to be morally responsible."
Spiritual Freedom Is Not License
Our liberty as members of society is necessarily limited by the existence and proximity of others and their rights. This calls for mutual respect, restraint, responsibility - a self-discipline that shares liberty. These are the price of each one being able to develop and use his capacities fully. A recent patriotic ballad contains this timely refrain:
"Freedom isn't free
You gotta pay a price
You gotta sacrifice
For your liberty."
Robert A. Taft thoughtfully defined liberty when he said: "When I say liberty, I mean liberty of the individual to think his own thoughts and live his own life as he desires to think and live." But a concept of liberty that might interfere with others really isn't liberty. It's license! As the Apostle Paul puts it: "Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another" (Gal. ). True liberty includes not only freedom from interference by others but includes as well consideration of others. There's an old saying that "your freedom to swing your hand ends at the point of your neighbor's nose."
As we gain a greater understanding of life as spiritual, we can live more freely, developing and using our capacities more fully for good - not just for ourselves but for others as well. For example, a friend of mind once served on the governing board of a large organization. A small group of employees felt discriminated against and brought their complaints to the board. My friend felt sympathetic to these claims but the rest of the board expressed great animosity toward the employees and strong disagreement with them. It was decided, however, to have the board's attorney study the matter and another meeting was scheduled for final action.
My friend is a Christian Scientist and found he had much to do to set his thoughts in order. But he understood life as spiritual to be the expression of divine Love and to be the basis by which all can live freely, developing and using their individual capacities. This helped him to eliminate a sense of resentment within himself over the conduct of the board and to fill his own thoughts with love toward everyone concerned.
At the later meeting, the attorney and other board members again took negative positions concerning the employees' request. But at this point my friend cited the employees' favorable record as orderly, law-abiding, capable, and responsible workers and observed that their excellent records and provisions of the state's statutes justified their request. He also cited certain statutes dealing with the issue of individual liberty and freedom of conscience under which they rightly sought their rights. And in spite of the previous position of the others, the matter was quickly and favorably settled to the satisfaction of the protesting group.
Freedom to Think for Ourselves
This is a period of rapid and revolutionary changes. As a result many people insist on thinking for themselves and are not content with merely automatically accepting what has been handed down to them. They are thinkers and want to know the why and wherefore of things and then to determine themselves whether or not there's a better way. There's much merit to this. And need for caution!
Emerson once said: "Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. In his right state, he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking." Emerson would perhaps be quite pleased with today's stirrings in society - or at least with much of them. Not with the violence and abuse, not with the selfishness and inequalities that persist at so many levels. But that people today are thinking about things not previously thought about.
The president of one of our nation's great colleges has recently observed: "I believe we are living through one of the great break-throughs of all time - something akin to the scientific revolution. There were individual scientists before the scientific revolution but there was no general faith in the search for truth. There have been wise leaders before the present revolution, but with all its awkwardness and convulsiveness I see it as a new burst of faith in the brotherhood of man. If we can learn to live with this faith and by it, there will be hope indeed. But to do this is going to take a great deal more knowledge, thought, and discipline than most of our young people yet realize."
Couldn't we add, than most people
yet realize? For what we all must learn to realize was stated many centuries
Happiness Is . . . . .
Good health and the free use of our capacities, made possible by the understanding of life as spiritual, enable us to enjoy a happy, satisfying experience in the highest sense of happiness and satisfaction. But just what is happiness?
In our library at home we have an enjoyable little book. It's entitled "Happiness Is A Warm Puppy." And as some of you may know, it documents the views on happiness of those lovable characters in the famous Peanuts comic strip. These include, of course, that warm puppy, Snoopy! Snoopy defines supreme happiness as "walking through the grass in your bare feet," and the book concludes: "Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person."
And so it seems to be, according to the world's general assessment of happiness in terms of material comfort, success, power, and satisfaction. But how really satisfying is a happiness based upon such often elusive and changeable things? To be enduring, and thus really satisfying, happiness must be pursued on a different level of thought and action. Just as life must be understood spiritually, and health and liberty sought on a spiritual basis, so happiness must be viewed. Mrs. Eddy observes: "Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it" (Science and Health, p. 57).
Certainly such things
as comfort, success, and all that is humanly worthwhile Christian Science
encourages. With Jesus, it declares: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly"
(John ). And after
observing: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the
"Children, how hard it is for them that trust in riches
to enter into the
The thing we must guard against, then, is the human inclination to trust in, to depend upon, even to worship material things. For our heart is where our treasure is. There's no more virtue in lack and limitation than there is in a surfeit of materiality. The basis for true happiness is to have more of the Christ-spirit in our hearts and minds.
As we understand the nature of life as spiritual, we will enjoy and seek out those things in human experience that most lead to or approximate spiritual life and its joys and harmonies. Satisfying happiness results from establishing and maintaining an elevated sense of values and in allowing the spiritual to take precedence over the material. This puts first things first. As Charles Lindbergh recently pointed out, the answer to the inconsistencies of looking for satisfaction in material things is to do "more through sociology than through technology; more by merging with the ways of God and nature than by attempting to replace them."
A Satisfying Happiness
But what is meant by merging with the ways of God? I believe it means holding one's thought in accord with the nature of life as spiritual and seeking to live accordingly. This results in better health, increased happiness, and satisfaction.
I know a young Christian Science mother who had been feeling unpleasant symptoms of flu one day. She had carried on her family and household duties but by nightfall felt the need to retire from the family and go to bed. She announced her intentions and asked her children and husband to prepare their own supper.
From her bedroom she could hear the sounds of mealtime preparation progressing in an orderly and harmonious nature - almost more so than when she was present. She joyfully recognized that this orderliness and harmony were expressions of God, Spirit, infinite good, and these are qualities of spiritual life. Entertainment of these life-impelling, strengthening qualities leads to life derived direct from God, Spirit. This is the basis of real health. Soon she found the aroma of the meal was quite appealing in spite of the physical condition with which she had retired. She realized she was well and quickly rejoined her family dismayed to discover the food was all gone! But this was promptly rectified too. You see, it's natural for spiritual Life's expression, man, to be healthy, happy, and satisfied. This can be demonstrated in everyday affairs of the home or on the wider stage of human activities.
I once read an article whose writer explained that the philosophy of certain southwestern American Indians is geared to harmony with the universe in which they live. She quoted one of them as explaining: ''When we dance for rain, it comes - if our thoughts are right."
Yet for right thinking to be fully effective, we must know its divine source. Christian Science acknowledges that God, divine Mind and Life, is the source and condition of all existence. God being infinite and eternal good, His creation must be harmonious and good. Mere ceremony, no matter how vigorously or earnestly conducted, can profit little unless thought is lifted in agreement with the present and eternal reality, perfection, and completeness of divine Life, God and His intelligent, harmonious universe.
"If our thoughts are right" - that is, if we keep our thoughts in conformity with the facts of spiritual life, and if we recognize divine Mind, God, as the source of these facts, our human experience will accordingly be harmonious, happy, and satisfying. Outward experience is the objectification of inward thought. Melody is music, for instance, the musician's thought externalized. As we cultivate joy, beauty, harmony in our thinking on a spiritual basis and recognize their divine source, we'll experience these in our lives. Mrs. Eddy observes: "For true happiness, man must harmonize with his Principle, divine Love; the Son must be in accord with the Father, in conformity with Christ" (Science and Health, p. 337). This is the way to real satisfaction and happiness.
The Story of Your Life
The British playwright Sir James Barrie wrote in "The Little Minister:" "The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it."
My friend, are you satisfied with your volume, with your life? I wonder, really, can or should anyone ever be completely satisfied with himself? After all, couldn't each of us do better or make more of his moments? Then the thing to do is start! Not tomorrow. And yesterday is too late. But right now! Our attaining isn't so much the result of where we've been or even where we are, but in the direction we're headed.
The satisfying life isn't gained in moments. It only begins there. Then it's enriched with every continuing effort to understand God and accept the Christ into consciousness - the spirit of Truth, Life, and Love; efforts that cherish the spiritual nature of life that leads to health, freedom, and happiness. Such efforts can make your diary entry be what you meant to write!
So we have seen, then, how anyone can write a satisfying story of his life. It only requires exchanging a concept of life as material, animal, limited, for a clearer perception of spiritual existence that's really satisfying. This is gained by understanding the nature of life as spiritual, and as the individual expression of God, Spirit, good. This enables us to enjoy better health and to live more freely, fully developing our capacities for good. And it results in a higher sense of happiness and satisfaction. As someone once said: "We are not here to make a living; we are here to make a life." Life really is what you make it - or make of it. And it doesn't have to be miserable. You can make it satisfying!
© 1968 Thomas O. Poyser
All rights reserved
[Published in The Tulsa County (Oklahoma) News, Oct. 30, 1969.]